Oracle vs. Google

This is ‘fun':

“Oracle filed a complaint in federal court in California, alleging the infringement of seven patents and copyrights by Google’s Android mobile operating system software.”

“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.”

One of the most interesting things about Google’s Android was the way in which they leveraged Java for the developer whilst NOT paying Sun royalties for the Java runtime (JRE) shipping on mobiles. They did this by compiling Java source code down to their ‘Dalvik‘ virtual machine, which is responsible for running the code on mobile phones. By using Dalvik and not the JRE, the theory was that there could be no claim by Sun for per-unit royalties.

(For the definitive explanation on how this works, see Stefano’s Dalvik: how Google routed around Sun’s IP-based licensing restrictions on Java ME.)

Sun was bought by Oracle earlier this year. Since then, a significant number of key people have left Sun/Oracle, including for example James Gosling, ‘the father of java'; Tim Bray, a very visible spokesperson and early inventor of XML, who now lives at Google; and Simon Phipps, who was chief open source officer of Sun and facilitated the release of many of Sun’s core products under open source licenses.

There’s also been much commentary on how Oracle are throwing out a lot of open source projects, which have since been picked up by new companies (e.g. ForgeRock, which also recruited Simon Phipps). Most recently, it became apparent that the next version of Solaris (Sun’s UNIX operating system) is being developed behind closed doors, with only the expectation of some open source dumps after Solaris 11 is released. The open source community is routing round this, with the Illumos project kicking off to provide life to what’s left of this Linux-competing has-been platform.

My predictions:

  • There will be a lot of noise about the patent risks of Android over the coming months, and a lot of pronounced wariness about adopting it, but it will not dent Android’s momentum in the marketplace nor actual adoption rates. This freight train ain’t stopping for anyone.
  • Oracle will lose (there’s a reason why Sun didn’t strike at the time). Oracle will irrevocably harm their ‘governance’ of the Java platform in the process (companies that opt for patent warfare over innovation are not viewed kindly).
  • When Oracle fail, this may even herald a new era of Java on mobile, as multiple Dalvik-like alternatives spring up – or clean room open source JREs spring up even during the suit.

It’s also great news for MeeGo (and marginally LiMo), as it underlines my comment the other day: operators have a vested interest in a degree of open source mobile platform fragmentation, and an Android monoculture is just as dangerous to them as an iPhone monoculture. Practically speaking, don’t expect this to result in showers of operator cash on the other open source platforms, though. The operators are more likely to spend that money on expensive risk-assessment exercises with their lawyers ;-)

Update 09:29: Miguel’s Initial Thoughts on Oracle vs Google Patent Lawsuit has some great context on this, including Sun shopping around ‘the rights to a lawsuit’, which makes a fair degree of sense. Maybe that’s why Sun didn’t sue, rather than the reputational aspects or relative likelihood of failure. I guess we’ll have to see how this one plays out.

Update 13:03: Carlo’s Oracle/Google: the patents and the implications is a pretty thorough review of the situation, too.

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