Former Sun CEOs Clash Over Java APIs in Oracle v. Google Case

Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy backed Oracle's contention that a license to use Java APIs was required, while Sun's last CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, testified that Google didn't need a license and was doing nothing wrong by using Java to build Android.

Clashing testimony by two former Sun Microsystems CEOs highlighted Day 9 of the Oracle v. Google copyright lawsuit at San Francisco's federal courthouse on April 26.

Sun co-founder Scott McNealy, who considers Oracle CEO Larry Ellison one of his best friends, took Oracle's side in its dispute with Google over the use of Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in building the Android mobile device operating system.


Jonathan Schwartz, who was president of Sun while McNealy was CEO and who served as CEO himself for the company's final four years, told presiding Judge William Alsup and the 12-person jury that because Java is open-source IT, Google didn't need to buy a license to use it from Oracle.

At the copyright and patent trial that 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.

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 Canada-based Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, and Palm Computing.

Android Now Most Popular Mobile OS

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.


Questioned by Oracle lead attorney David Boies, McNealy testified that just because Java is open source and publicly available doesn't mean the Internet connectivity language's APIs don't have to be licensed in certain contexts.

"Open source or open standards doesn't mean 'Let's throw it over the transom,'" McNealy told the court. "That's a big difference."

McNealy also said that Sun licensed its APIs, comparing them to architectural drawings or blueprints.

APIs instruct the use of the code for the particular application. They are made up of several components, including specifications, software tools and techniques. The latter cannot be copyrighted; this in large part is the crux of the lawsuit.

'Stuff' in Developers' Heads

Along these lines, former Google software architect Dan Bornstein testified April 25 that he was involved in an internal Google memo in which it was suggested that for Android coders and architects with Java experience it was permissible to use what code they already knew but not allowable to simply copy code from other sources.

Most successful software developers always have a certain amount of "stuff in their heads" from previous projects, Bornstein said. Most of that "stuff" involves techniques.

During his testimony, Schwartz said that companies could use Java without buying a license so long as they didn't claim to be Java-compatible and use the Java logo. Users of Java must subscribe to the open standards Java requires.

Google lead attorney Robert Van Nest asked Schwartz: "Was there ever a time during your tenure at Sun where Java APIs were considered proprietary or protected?"

"No. To the extent that anybody made that claim, we would have worked hard to say, 'No, that's not true,'" Schwartz said. "We didn't think they [Google] were doing anything wrong."

A Bit of Humor

Michael Jacobs, an Oracle attorney who handled the plaintiff's opening argument, asked Schwartz at the end of the session if he had been fired on day one when Oracle took over Sun on Jan. 27, 2010, in a $7.4 billion deal.

"I believe I resigned. They already had a CEO," Schwartz answered. There were a number of laughs in the courtroom.

The trial will end its second week on April 27 and is expected to continue well into June.

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK's Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...