Sun has betrayed us all

Sun has betrayed us all

Summary: By caving in to Kodak, Sun has set the scene for the end of free innovation in IT

TOPICS: IT Employment
If you're a software developer, your world is about to become a colder place – thanks to Sun. If you use software, get ready to pay much more for much less – thanks to Sun. If you had hopes that free and open source software would provide competition for proprietary systems, forget them – thanks to Sun.

We owe this huge debt of thanks to that company because it has caved in to Kodak. Instead of fighting the patent claims that Kodak raised over Java, Sun has settled out of court. We don't know the details – delightfully, such settlements often remain secret no matter what their public interest – but it undoubtedly includes a cross-licensing deal. In short, Sun has given Kodak millions of dollars to go away and the companies will have agreed not to sue each other in future over mutual use of their IP.

Although Sun has bravely said that this settlement is no admittance of guilt, it's handed over the Danegeld. Kodak is already crowing that its patents have been validated in court. Armed with this, it is free to go after anyone – and those patents can be argued to cover just about every aspect of modern software practice. They may even cover processors. That's just three patents out of the tens of thousands which are sprinkled around the industry. Which one will you infringe today?

Anyone who makes software is now at risk. Big companies will solve the problem cheaply by doing Sun-like cross-licensing deals – it'll cost less and be far less risky. Shareholder value demands it. Microsoft knows this. It has been assiduous at setting these up with many companies over the last year or so, and it already has an agreement with Kodak. In no time, there'll be a legal web over the industry, with everyone paying everyone else for the rights to use their respective IP. Nothing will escape: someone will already have patented 1+1=2, and can you afford to fight it?

That's fine if you're a big company and can afford to join the club. What if you're not? Then you either pay up your licence fees or you don't write software. Be sure that the big boys will set up a helpful organisation to issue cross-patent licences, so you only have to go to one place with your cheque, and be sure that the licence you get will be quite clear about what you can and cannot do with your software. After all, the rights of the intellectual property holders have to be maintained. That's the only way to encourage innovation – to give total control of invention to large companies.

As for free and open source software? We already know what Sun, Microsoft and friends think of that, so we can guess how happy they'll be – once they're in a position of control – to let it carry on.

There is only one way to avoid what has been described as a nuclear winter for the IT industry, and that is to call a halt to software patents now. Stop them. Repeal them all. They only exist through case law, the weakest sort of legislation imaginable. By all means, let's discuss how to protect IP in the age of the Internet and universal computing – it does need protecting. But the IP of the individual needs protecting from the interests of the powerful just as much as the interests of the powerful need protecting from the likes of us.

Luckily we don't currently suffer the same software patent mess in Europe, but this could soon change as the European Software Patents Directive makes its way back to the Parliament. This legislation is approaching a critical stage. Talk to your MP and your MEP about it now, or check out the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure for more information.

Topic: IT Employment

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  • Enough with the Sun Bashing please. Sun is a company that's struggling to survive and its key customers and markets, in mission-critical computing, have zero-tolerance for the uncertainty that a protracted legal process, however morally justified, can entail. Why don't you bash Kodak? They're the legal-proccess-abusing extortionists. Why don't you support Sun? They're the good guys and I can empathize with their situation. They were ruled against by a screwed-up jury that's clueless to technical facts and most probably biased towards, Kodak, the largest employer in their area, Rochester.
  • Sun is a company that is struggling to survive thanks to its own short sighted and monopolistic practices.

    Why else would an "open-source friendly" company bash Red Hat and the Linux community in general, whilst accepting 2 billion from Microsoft in order to keep on operating.

    I used to like Sun a lot, but their hardware is overpriced and slow. We have a Willamette core P4 that is faster than a
  • Sun??? No, Kodak has f-ed us all. Put the blame where it belongs: On bogus patents, on a bogus system. Given the rules of the game, a company must play or die. It's the game itself that's broken, not the player.

    Europe, you've been warned! Do not follow in the footsteps of your hapless friends across the Atlantic! Reject software patents!
  • Struggling to survive? Hardly - Sun has over $9bn in the bank.

    KODAK has betrayed us all, not Sun. I'll never buy Kodak again, and i encourage everyone else to do the same - and email Kodak to tell them this!
  • Unfortunately, Sun's actions are indicative of the industry as a whole, and is not a single perpatrator in this matter.

    What is clearly being lost in the translation here is fair use - it's about corporations lifting their leg and marking out their turf. It's not about a set of ideals; nor is it about anything other than greed.

    I suppose those who bash Sun will say Kodak was correct to accept the settlment, just as those who blast Kodak will tell us Sun can do what they like with their money.

    Licensing is becoming more expensive, but short-sightedness has contributed towards this. Sun's Java-PC is a prime example: pay for the hardware, then 'rent' the software out. All this is, pure and simple, is criminal.

    Sun haven't changed and I doubt, like most other large tech firms with a portfolio of products and services will want for nothing. In real terms, this latest settlement means nothing to the average IT user - it's just part of their long running plan which Sun can't admit is to dominate just like Microsoft and IBM before it.
  • Yet another competitive advantage for the rest of the world.
    We will surely work hard to keep your lawyers out of our courts. We will not allow our IT industry to be ruined by phoney patents.

    Oh. And I just came up with something that I will patent in the US: A gas mixture of approx 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygene. Purpose: vitalizing and enhancing performance in mammals. I think I will call it "Air". Pay up or die!
  • This could be the catalyst that kicks the EU into touch about software patents. Without them, this cannot happen - and we're far better off that way over here.

    It is not, however, the end of the software industry, nor of free software. It just means that America (and any nation which mimics its software patents system) will be excluded from the party.

    Unfortunately, if the EU commission listens to the megacorps, we'll have the same problem over here within a year or so, and we'll all be in the same boat, except for developing countries and eastern Asia.

    You thought off-shoring was a problem: America has just blown off the other foot and hobbled its whole IT industry by giving the playground bully a pat on the back, and exrtra "pocket money".

    Now you see why patents are evil - not just software patents, just *especially* software patents.

    Developing IT technology is about to become akin to rolling round naked on a floor covered in thumb-tacks.
  • Is the current patent system a problem? Yes. The mechanism to protect original ideas is anitquated and archaic. It's not keeping up with the realities of today's businesses and technologies.

    But to blame Sun is simply moronic.

    To all ZDNet UK editors, I'd highly recommend what your own esteemed colleague wrote on the matter:
  • So sun gets sued by Kodak and they're the bad guys? Please! Put the blame squarely where it lies.
  • A jury has found that Sun Microsystems infringed on Eastman Kodak patent. If you were running a company and you are in the same situation as Sun is. What would you do ?
  • What a poor article!

    You can only "betray" someone if you have an agreement with someone!
    Sun thought that it was his best interest to settle, so what? Sun don't own anything to us..

    If *you* want to fight against Kodak, be my guest, use *your own* time and dollars to fight, do not complain that someone else didn't do it for you!
  • Let the Americans prat about to their hearts content.
    I can't give a fig about US patents. After all, 94.6% of the world are not American (US) citizens.
    Take bitTorrent, for example.
    Where does your particular fragment come from at any one time? US sometimes, Italy/Germany the next millisecond.

    Just forget Uncle Spam.
  • Sun Did Fight Kodak In Court...

    ... AND LOST. When you say "[Sun] has caved in to Kodak. Instead of fighting the patent claims that Kodak raised over Java, Sun has settled out of court" you conveniently forgot to mention the prolonged court battle Sun has been in with Kodak over this very matter. A COURT BATTLE WHICH SUN LOST.

    Sun only settled the monetary settlement figure out of court, rather than risk a judge awarding $1billion (which was what Kodak was going to ask for). They didn't settle the case out of court... SUN LOST THE COURT CASE.

    The parallels with the Sun/Microsoft case are astounding except for the trivial detail of who gets blamed. Sun sues Microsoft. Microsoft loses. Microsoft settles for $2billion. Suddenly everybody is yelling at Sun for being the bad guys. This time around, Kodak sues Sun. Sun loses. Sun settles for $92million. Yet for some reason, people are still yelling at Sun for being the bad guys. Huh? Why yell at Sun the first time and Sun the second time? Surely if you're going to be consistent it's Kodak's fault this time.

    And although I have no affiliation with Sun (notice how I cleverly predict the inevitable "Sun is just paying you to write supportive comments on Zdnet"), what is with all the Sun-bashing these days? Isn't Microsoft doing enough evil to keep people content? And don't give me that cock-and-bull conspiracy story about Sun doing backroom deals with SCO to destroy Linux. Your propellor is spinning too fast if you believe that. Why don't you go attack HP for funding the SCO forums well after the SCO/Linux nonsense started.
  • I develop software for the mobile market. Our latest project took over a year to complete, during that time midp2 devices started to emerge, all with different implementations of the specs, which gave us a headache! Now with information coming to surface regarding their deal with MS, I find it totally impossible to bank our biz on their technology. As of yesterday all coming projects will be done in Symbian! Not only does it give us access to different parts of the device, we also won't have to wait for emerging jsr's, which may or may not work device independent. We will give up the "write once run everywhere" features of j2me, which isn't working anyway. Thats why you usually have to download Your-device-version-of-the-program, which may or may not work with your firmware... Don't get me wrong, It's not the technology in itself, it's SUNs nutty behaviour. Yes we support OSS, No it's bad with OSS, Yes Linux is good, NO Linux is crap, Solaris rules. We hate MS, We love MS, The Network is the computer..and on and on it goes..the latest of McNealys rantings pushed me over the line....and now this Patent biz (coupled with the bedplay with MS)...goodbuy.
  • The fastest way to make software more secret is to abolish patents! Patents are published for all to see, without them companies would use secrecy to protect themselves. Patents also protect small companies from the big and ruthless. In fact they provide the only protection for the little guys.
    I salute Sun!
  • In fact, under US current copyrigth Law, Sun had ZERO choice in the matter. the sttlement happend AFTER it was adjudged by a jury that Sun was GUILTY of infringing on Kodak's patents. So, Sun, which had more than 2 decades of many folks' dev work into Java ( I was reading of Java in Byte in 1984-1985 College academic year and after than until Byte Magazine folded and have followed it since with avid attention) "did the right thing under teh circumstances." Instead of allowing the trial to enter its PENALTY and DAMAGES stage, they settled with Sun for $92,000,000.00 USD before the date fro that to start came up as current. Sun had been to trial, HAD lost ths case, and thus was not caving as they settled for considerably less than Kodak sought.

    No, I am not a Sun employee, but I do use things like OpenOffice and Mozilla that utilize Java 5 well. Adn frankly, had Sun not paid, a lot of devs would have had a lot fo rewriting to do and Sun could not have continued sponsoring those dev efforts to the degree it still does after the settlement.

    Had Sun not gone to trial, they would in fact have been caving, but this was AFTER the fact finding part of the trial was complete that this happened. Doing this spared them LOTs of legal expense and court costs and possibly a large increase in penalty and damage adjudication fulfillment expenses. They settled bacasue they had in fact been essentially FOUND guilty and decided to seek a settlement good for both parties ratehr than have one imposed. Had they continued into the penalty and damages phase, the amount owed woudl have become fixed costs and NOT been negotiable.

    US Law allows for negotiated settlements (between civil suit parties) between the fact finding part and the penalty and damages parts of many trials where the charges are civil and not criminal. It does NOT allow for a negotiation AFTER the penalties and damages parts of such trials. There is no way Sun could have had the adjudged penalties and damages reduced later, except by appeal. That costs a LOT. Sun did not have enough law on its side to consider appealing in a very serious manner, but I am certain it was discussed as a possible option.
  • Firstly, we'd like to express our extreme disappointment with your decision to publish such a thoroughly slanted article without even contacting Sun for comment.

    Sun can only characterize as irresponsible ZDUK's leader about our patent settlement with Kodak. Even as you acknowledge that you
  • "Sun Corporate Communications" called the ZDNet article irresponsible on
    several accounts:

    Sun can only characterize as irresponsible ZDUK's leader about our patent
    settlement with Kodak. Even as you acknowledge that you
  • Sun did the honorable thing! Kodak should be a ashammed of letting the lawyers back in. Now they have a new way to creat "unearned income"