Google Engineer Testifies About Key Email in Oracle Lawsuit

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-04-19 Print this article Print

Google software engineer Tim Lindholm wrote an email in 2010 to Android project manager Andy Rubin, indicating that he had been asked to research technical alternatives to using Sun's Java in the Android operating system. All of them "sucked," he wrote.

For the first time in its four days, the Oracle v. Google software copyright court case in San Francisco did not feature testimony by a CEO. But a key player from Google did speak to the judge and jury April 19 about a crucial email he wrote.

Oracle attorney David Boies showed several Google emails to the jury during the day's opening statements,  describing them as "prime evidence" that Google took Oracle's intellectual property without obtaining a proper license.

At the copyright and patent trial in federal court, which began April 16, Oracle is charging Google with stealing parts of its Java software suite to help build its highly successful Android mobile device operating system. Oracle is seeking about $1 billion in damages and a possible injunction against Google using the software.

License Needed for Commercial Deployments?

While the Java programming language itself belongs to the open-source community and is free of charge to use, it still must be licensed for commercial deployments under the GNU Public License. The application programming interfaces of Java may be another matter, since APIs are made up of software, specifications and techniques.

Oracle claims in the lawsuit that the "specifications and implementations of the APIs are not a method of operation or system." Google claims it used only software that is free to use and did not need a license for its development project.

On April 19, Boies asked Google engineer Timothy Lindholm to take the stand and answer questions about an email written in 2010 that has become a critical piece of evidence in the case.

Lindholm is a former Sun Microsystems employee who began working at Google in 2005, five years before Oracle acquired Sun. In mid-2010, Lindholm wrote an email to Google Android project manager Andy Rubin, indicating that he had been asked to research technical alternatives to using Sun's Java in the Android operating system.

Lindholm's email, blown up for the judge and jury to see, read: "We've been over a bunch of these, and think they all suck. We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java under the terms we need."

In answer to Boies' question, Lindholm said that he did indeed write the email, but he added that he was not necessarily talking about obtaining a license from Sun. "It was not specifically a license from anybody," Lindholm said.

Oracle Now the Java License Holder

Sun€”now Oracle€”however, is the license holder on all commercial Java deployments. Oracle utilizes the GNU Public License for Java users, which does not require a fee of any kind but does require that certain open standards be maintained in the implementation.

The Java APIs, which consist of software, instructions and techniques used to create Java applications and implementations, are what are in question in the court case, which may well have lasting implications in the software industry.

Lindholm subsequently told a Google attorney, Christa Anderson, that he thought the software was free for use by anybody because it was property of the open-source community.

Background on the Case

Oracle first filed suit in August 2010, claiming that Google illegally used seven Java APIs that Oracle owns to help build the Android operating system. Google contends that the APIs it uses cannot be copyrighted because doing so would be similar to copyrighting a technique used to perform a task. Legally, techniques are not considered intellectual property.

Google contends that Oracle was planning on getting into the smartphone business itself, would have been a competitor to Android and simply wants to horn in on the profits of the popular open-source mobile device system. Ellison testified April 17 that Oracle did at one time consider acquiring Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, and Palm Computing.

Android, released in 2008 by Google to partners such as Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers for smartphones and tablet PCs, now runs more than 300 million mobile devices.

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK Editor of Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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