Java Creator Gosling: Oracle's Android Lawsuit Is No Surprise

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-08-13

Java Creator Gosling: Oracle's Android Lawsuit Is No Surprise

In what some characterize as a battle in the making ever since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, Oracle has leveled a lawsuit against Google for patent and copyright infringement over the use of Java in the Android mobile device platform.

Indeed, Sun had its issues with Android, but did not file suit. Java's new master, Oracle, is a different animal.

Oracle issued a press release on its lawsuit late on Aug. 12 stating that Google had infringed on Oracle's intellectual property.

"In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property. This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement," said Oracle spokesperson Karen Tillman in a statement.

Google could not be reached for comment.

In an Aug. 12 blog post on the matter, Java creator James Gosling said:

"Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer's eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun's genetic code. Alas....

"I hope to avoid getting dragged into the fray: they only picked one of my patents (RE38,104) to sue over. "

In its complaint against Google, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, Oracle calls for a jury trial. Oracle's complaint acknowledges that Java is one of the most important technologies Oracle acquired from Sun.

Oracle also called for the court to block further infringement by Google by several means including stopping Google from distributing any more copies of Android or advertising about Android,  and to impose treble damages on Google for its "willful and deliberate" infringement on Oracle's intellectual property.

"As a direct and proximate result of Google's direct and indirect willful copyright infringement, Oracle America has suffered, and will continue to suffer, monetary loss to its business, reputation, and goodwill," the Oracle complaint said.

Moreover, "Without consent, authorization, approval, or license, Google knowingly, willingly, and unlawfully copied, prepared, published, and distributed Oracle America's copyrighted work, portions thereof, or derivative works and continues to do so," the complaint said.

Oracle's complaint also said that Android users, including device manufacturers, have to obtain and use copyrightable portions of the Java platform to build and use Android devices. However, as that use was not licensed by Sun, "Google has thus induced, caused, and materially contributed to the infringing acts of others by encouraging, inducing, allowing and assisting others to use, copy, and distribute Oracle America's copyrightable works, and works derived therefrom."

A key issue in the case is the Dalvik virtual machine (VM) that Google ships with Android. Oracle claims that the Dalvik VM violates several Oracle patents - seven, in fact. Indeed, Oracle claims Google has been aware of these patents since the middle of this decade, "when Google hired certain former Sun Java engineers," Oracle's complaint said.

According to Oracle, "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."

Java Creator Gosling: Oracle's Android Lawsuit Is No Surprise

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Some observers agree. A commenter to James Gosling's post, identified as Fredrik Olsson, said:

"I am no backer of software patents. But Google did screw with the very spirit if Java; compatibility. Google willfully created Dalvik, an incompatible Java run-time, in order to weasel out of compatibility tests and license fees. Google did this in order to be able to cherry pick the good stuff from Java (developer mind-share, existing frameworks and great tools) without having to care about compatibility or costs. Just try getting any AOP [Aspect-Oriented Programming] or mocking tools to run on Dalvik. Oracle might have done it for the wrong reasons, but Google should not be surprised."

Another commenter to Gosling's post, identified as Adam Lock, said:

"But Dalvik never claimed to be a JVM and Google has taken pains (probably for legal reasons) to say exactly that. Programmers might happen to program using Java language but the end result is something which is expressly not Java. I expect [the reason] Google didn't use the JVM boils down to numerous factors including licensing, money, performance, inability/refusal by Sun/Oracle to provide required features, plus a desire to -own' the platform or at least ensure Sun didn't have fingers all over it. At this stage I think Google probably made the right decision for themselves and Android. I love Java but I haven't seen a decent implementation in a phone yet. My own feeling is this lawsuit is just a land grab and I would not be surprised if Google file a countersuit based on a raft of patents that Sun/Oracle have infringed. Eventually matters will be settled the way they usually are with a cross licensing agreement and some money under the table."

And Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at industry research firm IDC, cites Dalvik's link to the Apache Harmony implementation of Java as a key issue in this case. Hilwa told eWEEK:

"Interestingly, one important piece of code in Android is the Dalvik JVM which is based on the Apache Software Foundation Harmony implementation of Java SE. There has been a long-running feud about the certification of Harmony with the Test Compatibility Kit. It is not clear if these infringements apply to Harmony as well. Many expected Sun to raise some hay about Google's fork of the Java code to produce Dalvik but having waited for Android to be a success can be quite disruptive. This is a typical intellectual property value defense lawsuit, but it can have serious consequences on the Android market and its adoption by OEMs. Basically it says that Oracle wants to get into the action and leverage its acquired Java assets better financially. Google has released Android as Open Source under the Apache license, a type of license which permits other vendors to add code to produce their own products."

In an interview with eWEEK about why he chose to port his database to Android, Damien Katz, creator of the Apache CouchDB project, lauded the openness of Android. Katz said: "The reason we picked Android as our first phone platform is it's very open."

However, when Google initially announced its plans for Android and Dalvik in 2007 it rubbed several Sun engineers the wrong way, including Gosling, who at the time was a vice president and fellow at Sun Microsystems. Gosling moved to Oracle after the Sun acquisition, but resigned from the company in April.

And in an interview with eWEEK from June 2009 at the JavaOne 2009 conference, Gosling said of Google and Android:

"One of the reasons that we charge license fees is because we've got organizations of people that do compatibility testing and actual negotiating amongst the different handset makers so that things like GPS APIs look the same. And what's going on in the Android world is there's kind of no adult in charge. And all these handset manufacturers are doing whatever they damn well please. Which means that it's just going to be randomness. It could be let a thousand flowers bloom, but it also could be a dog's breakfast. And I guess having been around the track a few times, it feels like it's going to be more of a dog's breakfast."

However, Sun did not pursue a lawsuit, for perhaps as Gosling suggested, it was not in the company's makeup. Indeed, Sun open-sourced much of Java in 2006.

And although a patent lawsuit against Google may not have been in Sun's DNA, the company did successfully sue Microsoft for meddling with Java and gained a settlement of more than $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Gosling says he hopes not to be pulled into the fray. But unless there's a quick settlement that scenario is unlikely. Yet should he be called upon Gosling will see at least one "friendly" face - that of David Boies, super lawyer for the tech world. Oracle has hired the firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP to help carry forth its lawsuit. Boies headed up the U.S. government's landmark antitrust case against Microsoft - in which Gosling was a witness for the government. Boies most recently represented in a legal battle with Microsoft that has since been settled.


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