Them’s Fightin’ Words
As you may have heard, Oracle (who now own Sun and the Java programming language) filed a patent infringement suit against Google related to the use of Java on the Android platform (particularly in the Dalvik VM, details on TechCrunch if you’re interested). Google has responded to Oracle’s suit, and they are ready to make a stand:
We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit. 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.
Oracle is attacking Google’s open-source brainchild, and it’s good to see that Google is making a statement in line with their “don’t be evil” philosophy. How this lawsuit will unfold remains to be seen, but expect more posturing and threats from both sides in the coming weeks.
Why sue now? Oracle’s recent acquisition of Java was not the only trigger here. Apparently Google and Sun had been haggling over licensing parts of Java ME for use in the Android Dalvik VM for some time. After negotiations reached a stalemate, Google left the bargaining table and developed their own VM based on parts of Java ME blended with their own additions, excluding Sun from the whole process. Sun was unhappy, but unlikely to sue on their own – adding Oracle to the equation changed that rather quickly.
Defense! (Thump, Thump) Defense!
This does put Google in a somewhat vulnerable position, and Oracle is now seeking to salvage royalties from sales of Android devices. If you’re asking how Oracle can demand royalties from a product Google does not directly profit from, I’ll give an analogy.
Suppose your friend makes a cake, and it’s so delicious that you ask for the recipe. You look at the recipe and think “this cake would be even better with a different frosting, filling, chocolate batter, and strawberries on top” so you modify it. You then freely share this recipe with your restaurateur friend, who loves it so much he starts to sell it on his menu, and makes a killing on it. You’re just happy to see your recipe being successful, but your friend quickly realizes “Hey, I could’ve sold my recipe to that guy!”
Imagine this scenario, except in this case, your friend has a patent on the recipe. Is your recipe different enough that it’s a unique product? That is the legal question which must be answered, should this argument go to court.
As the battle intensifies, Oracle will likely seek a cease-and-desist order on Android (which would call for a halt of production and sale of Android devices), though it seems Google is willing to call any such bluff.
What does this mean for Android users? If Oracle has their way, handset prices may increase as manufacturers absorb the cost of royalties for the use of patented Java technology. It’s all hazy at this point, though – so we’ll be watching this legal battle closely.