SAN JOSE, Calif. – Oracle filed civil suit against Google this week in U.S. District Court in San Jose claiming Google's Android software violates Java patents Oracle acquired with Sun Microsystems. But I would not expect the move to chill the enthusiasm for using Android in everything from iPhone-like smartphones to insulin pumps.
The suit is something Google could easily settle out of court by striking a licensing deal with Oracle. Indeed, it's likely Oracle is using the suit to get the search giant's attention or Oracle's desired price in negotiations for just such a patent license.
Google will need to make a calculation about the legal costs of the suit versus a settlement. In either case, its costs will likely be tiny compared to the opportunity for controlling the leading mobile systems software stack, the basis for the next big wave of Google's search and advertising businesses.
Apparently, Google has decided to fight based on this canned statement just sent to me from a Google spokesperson:
"We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit," the spokesman said.
"The open-source Java community goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the web a better place. We will strongly defend open-source standards and will continue to work with the industry to develop the Android platform," he said.
Whatever the costs of the suit or a settlement they are not likely to be so great that Google would risk charging royalties for Android and potentially scaring OEMs into the arms of an alternative software stack. Even through the recession and the current sluggish recovery, Google is raking in too much cash to make that an attractive option. It remains to be seen, however, if Oracle would take the bold step of suing an HTC or Motorola.
At the end of the day, the suit is just business--Oracle's effort to get a slice of the growing Android pie. If it didn't file, it would not be serving the interests of its shareholders.
Ironically, avoiding royalty costs to the likes of an Oracle or IBM is what likely motivated Google to develop its own virtual machine code, Dalvik, as a compatible alternative to Java. But regardless the quality of your clean room code, competitors can and will sue. Google was lucky to escape court for so long while the saga of the acquisition of Sun Microsystems played out.
Bill Weinberg, a veteran open source activist also sees the suit having limited impact. "Android is such a juggernaut that it's hard to imagine a suit putting a damper on adoption," he said.
"The need to duplicate/emulate substantial Java run-time functionality [in Android] seems to implicate the patents in question," Weinberg added.
Sun never found a way to make money on Java, and feared charging for the technology would hinder its adoption. By contrast, Oracle "may be hard pressed internally to show ROI for the Sun acquisition, and extracting a settlement from Google (possible) or run-time payments from Android licenses (improbable) would help," Weinberg said.
I'll go out on a short limb and make two assumptions about Oracle's motives based on this suit. Oracle continues to hate free software despite being the owner of Solaris, a bunch of Java patents and its own Linux distribution. For example, attendees to Oracle's systems roadmap event this week made it clear that while Solaris is available free, the company makes significant money selling maintenance contracts on it.
Secondly, you can bet Oracle is not in final negotiations for a big sale of servers or software to Google's data centers right now. Must be HP, IBM or Google's homegrown server channels are providing for them quite nicely at the moment.
The suit is now posted online. It alleges Google is violating seven Oracle patents—specifically U.S. patents numbers 6,125,447; 6,192,476; 5,966,702; 7,426,720; RE38,104; 6,910,205; and 6,061,520.
The suit asks for treble damages, claiming Google knew about the patents and even hired key Java engineers from Sun. It also asks for an injunction prohibiting Google from further distributing Android.
The suit also alleges Google has induced OEMs to violate the Java patent. "Users of Android, including device manufacturers, must obtain and use copyrightable portions of the Java platform or works derived therefrom to manufacture and use functioning Android devices," the suit says.
The suit (case number 10-3561) was filed in San Jose but assigned to Oakland's Judge Beeler. The documents are currently in transit according to court officials. Meanwhile, Computerworld has one of many reports on the suit.