Oracle Sues Google Over Android’s Java

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Oracle claims that Google’s Android OS breaks the Java patents it acquired from Sun

Oracle has sued Google, claiming the popular Android operating system infringes Java patents, which Oracle acquired with Sun Microsystems this year.

“In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property,” said Oracle spokeswoman Karen Tillman in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement.” Oracle is expected to ask for an injunction against future sales of Android phones, and is also making a copyright complaint, but there are few details yet. Google has so far declined to comment.

Android success

The lawsuit has taken many people by surprise, given that Android is an open source operating system for mobile devices, with an expectation that it should be freely available.

Android has also been gaining in popularity. In the US, Android is now outselling iPhone and Blackberry, making it the most popular smartphone operating system there. It came top in a poll of readers of eWEEK Europe UK, and sales in the UK have rocketed, growing 350 percent in the most recent quarter.

Android was created from the outset to be a free operating system, but Java’s creator, James Gosling predicted Google was heading for trouble over the way it implemented the ability to run Java apps.

Java was created by Gosling at Sun in 1995, to allow apps to run without recompilation on any platform that runs a Java virtual machine. Java became open source in 2007, but Sun retained the right to control and license its implementation of Java for mobile devices. Rather than licence Sun’s Java technology, Sun built its own Dalvik virtual machine which can translate and run Java code.

Lawsuit planned before Oracle bought Sun?

According to Mexican open source programmer Miguel de Icaza, who started both the Gnome and Mono projects, Oracle planned this lawsuit before it bought Oracle. Indeed Icaza says it was one of the assets which Sun executives pitched to potential buyers, and is part of the justification for the £5 billion Oracle paid for the company.

By picking the Gnu Public License (GPL) when it open sourced Java, Sun hoped to get revenue from licensing its technology, said Icaza in a blog post, but Google did not co-operate. Sun was doing poorly in the markets, so rather than sue Google themselves, Sun executives presented the potential lawsuit to prospective buyers.

“I am going to bet that the same careful planning that went into picking the GPL went into pitching the potential for lawsuits,” said de Icaza. “The world had already witnessed the awesome iPhone and the eyes were on Google to deliver a killer phone. Jonathan [Schwarz, Sun CEO] must have known this and he must have been pitching this to the potential suitors. By the time Oracle bought Sun, they knew that they would be going after Google and anyone else with a big, fat checkbook that did not have a licensing deal in place.”

Immediately after the Sun purchase, Gosling left Oracle along with other Java lumninaries, including Sun’s open source chief Simon Phipps. De Icaza believes they knew about the impending lawsuit and had signed non-disclosure agreements.

An attack on open source?

Oracle’s acquisition of Sun faced strong opposition from open source advocates, particularly those supporting the MySQL database which Sun owned. Oracle has specifically tried to placate MySQL users but said very little about Java since the merger completed.

“I consider this a patent attack on free software and open source,” said Florian Mueller, founder of NoSoftwarePatents, a campaign group which does what its name says.

Mueller suspects that the Oracle suit appeared out of the blue, without attempts to negotiate. “Since Oracle doesn’t claim to have made a good-faith attempt to resolve the issue amicably, it’s certainly possible (unless information to the contrary surfaces later) that this is a hostile, aggressive and destructive move on Oracle’s part.”

If the patent suit goes in Oracle’s favour, the likely result is a payment from Google to Oracle: “I would like to think that this is going to be solved with a quick settlement where Oracle will shake Google for a few billion dollars and the entire matter will be put behind,” said de Icaza.

However, he doubts whether this would help other software makers using Android: “Oracle will likely want to settle with Google under terms that will only cover Google’s own use as they want to go shaking other OEM trees for more cash.”

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