Oracle's lawsuit against Google for Java patent infringement highlights how Android is going to become a big target in court.
Take Oracle's lawsuit (statement), which alleges that Google developed Android and "directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property," and couple it with Apple's court battle with HTC and it's clear the legal armies are amassing against Android. And why not? Android has pretty much been unstoppable and once something gets critical mass it only stands to reason that there will be a fine-tooth patent comb going through the mobile operating system's code.
Google’s Android competes with Oracle America’s Java as an operating system software platform for cellular telephones and other mobile devices. The Android operating system software “stack” consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a “Dalvik” virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation. Google actively distributes Android (including without limitation the Dalvik VM and the Android software development kit) and promotes its use by manufacturers of products and applications. Android (including without limitation the Dalvik VM and the Android software development kit) and devices that operate Android infringe one or more claims of each of United States Patents Nos. 6,125,447; 6,192,476; 5,966,702; 7,426,720; RE38,104; 6,910,205; and 6,061,520.
Oracle goes on to say that Google knew of Sun's patents since 2005 or so and the search giant hired a bevy of Sun engineers.
There are a few key threads to note about Oracle's suit. When Oracle first bought Sun it seemed fairly obvious that Java played a big role. Today, Oracle's purchase of Sun is portrayed as a way to deliver integrated hardware-software systems. However, Oracle acquired Sun's vast intellectual property portfolio. With Java, Oracle has the language the underpins its enterprise applications and middleware---not to mention IBM's. It only stands to reason that Oracle would monetize Java via lawsuits and patents. In that regard, Oracle's Android suit makes perfect sense.
There are serious financial incentives to file IP-related lawsuits. When a big fish sues a bigger fish over intellectual property rights that aren’t clearcut, there has to be a bigger picture, a corporate strategy that makes the financial and PR risks worth the potential gain. In this case, it’s mobile computing which, in case you haven’t noticed, is the future of both consumer and, in many ways, enterprise computing. Yeah, I’d say there’s an incentive here.
However, if you zoom out a bit you see where this is headed. Apple's HTC lawsuit has a heavy dose of Android in it. Oracle is suing Google over the Java in Android. In journalism, there's a saying that three makes a trend. Rest assured there will be another patent suit lobbed at Android from various parties. Android is on a tear, but Google may wind up licensing some patents along the way.
What will happen with Oracle and Google? For starters, Oracle can play the courtroom game well---see Oracle vs. SAP/TomorrowNow for instance. Google could fight, but it may be far more expedient to just license the patents. Notice how quickly the Microsoft-Salesforce.com patent scrum was settled even though Marc Benioff called the software giant a thug. Assuming Oracle's points are valid, Google may just pay up and move along.
Cowen analyst Peter Goldmacher noted that Oracle and Google are likely to reach an agreement. He said in a research note:
We are surprised that Oracle and Google couldn't reach a deal on what appears to be a straightforward licensing agreement. We believe Oracle is justified in defending its patent portfolio but suspect that its negotiating tactics were more aggressive than Google cared for. While the names involved in the lawsuit are high profile, we suspect the amount of money at risk for either side, win or lose, is immaterial. We are not inclined to make this seemingly minor patent dispute a bigger issue.