Monday, July 25, 2011

Will Jonathan Schwartz's blog post finally persuade Oracle to pick its toys up and put them back in the pram?

In case you've missed all the commotion, or just found it a little bit dull, I remind you that in August 2010, Oracle filed suit against Google, claiming that their Android operating system violates various patents held by Oracle after they acquired Sun Microsystems.

The extent of damages that they can actually claim for appears to be in some doubt. After an initial claim of several billion dollars, and a judge effectively ruling "don't be so silly" last week, the claim may be reduced to as "little" as 100 million dollars. If I had 100 million dollars, I wouldn't be sitting round writing silly blog posts. But to Google, that's petty cash.

Now, to naive bystanding programmers such as myself who are not lawyers, a few things always seemed a little bit odd about this case:
  • would a company the size of Google with the legal resources it can afford really just go ahead and commit billions of dollars worth of patent infringement and hope that "nobody would notice"?
  • if there was a big problem with Android's use of Java technology, why didn't Sun raise this at the time?
  • some of the patents in question really boil down to some quite small, specific points of implementation (e.g. specific details of implementation of protection domains, the "pre-processing and packaging of class files", and some implementational details of the virtual machine), many of which could probably be worked around by using alternative implementations or (and hence) a reasonable licence fee negotiated with Sun if need be.

Or put another way, the whole case smells of somebody scratting around through their recently acquired arsenal of patents looking for an excuse to sue. Rather than learning to play happily with all the other children in the classroom, Oracle seems intent on shouting "But Miss, the red crayons are mine!".

Meanwhile, commentators had noticed the curious deletion of blog posts of previous Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Unfortunately, such Orwellian attempts to rewrite history don't tend to work on the Internet. Thanks to nothing more sophisticated than a search in The Way Back Machine, a key post from "Jonathan's Blog" has been restored to its former glory. And in this post, Schwartz states: "I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of others from Sun in offering my heartfelt congratulations to Google on the ennouncement of their new Java/Linux phone platform, Android". As commentator Steven Vaughan-Nichols has also pointed out, this doesn't exactly sound like Sun were saying "We disapprove of Android because it violates our patents and will be suing Google for billions of dollars".

It will be interesting to see if this evidence can persuade the two parties to finally bang their heads together and get on with more interesting things. Like it or lump it, Android is a key market for Java technology, with Android accounting for a 30% share of tablet shipments in April-June 2011, for example. I can't help feeling that it would be more conducive to the platform's development for Oracle and Google to have a more sensible working relationship.

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