Oracle v. Google – Software Patents In Play

I’ve mostly been ignoring this up till now, but I think it’s time to take a look at it.

This is an interesting situation. Oracle is suing Google over the Java programming language. There are several issues that neither has to the present addressed. First, there’s an article that Jonathon Schwartz published on his blog while he was President and CEO of Sun, the predecessor in interest of Oracle (Oracle purchased Sun in April 2009) titled Congratulations Google, Red Hat and the Java Community! A careful read of the article, which was published eighteen months before the purchase, would give one the impression that Sun was pleased that Google had adopted Java, and was giving IMPLICIT AND PUBLIC PERMISSION FOR GOOGLE TO DO SO. Out of curiosity I emailed the link to Gene Quinn over at IPWatchDog to get his response. All he came back with was ‘thanks.’ If the article is taken as permission, then Oracle loses.

Another question involves the ‘specific machine’ issue. Pamela Jones wrote about this, and it could be very important. When I read the patents I didn’t see any tie them to a specific machine. The issue surrounds the constantly shifting U.S. Patent rules, which change every time a major patent court case happens. If it is deemed that a patent must be tied to a specific machine, then the patents are invalid, and Oracle looses.

Even if the patents don’t have to be tied to a specific machine, there is a good chance that they will fail, due to the subject matter being predated by something else, or by being ruled obvious, in which case Oracle loses. I’ve read the patents, and the things that they are talking about were implemented at least fifteen to twenty years previously in Unix.

If you are interested in reading the court filings, Pamela Jones is collecting all of the public ones at Groklaw, and they can be found here.

According to the case documents which have been released, Sun and Google had carried out negotiations over Java, and the negotiations broke down. The documents were less than clear on why the negotiations broke down, and you cannot trust court filings to give you an unbiased viewpoint, a court is after all an adversarial environment. And now that things have progressed to the lawsuit stage, both companies are remaining quiet, so as to not damage their chances in court.

A big question is why Oracle did this? We may find out in future court filings.

The last issue is, what do Java programmers do? Bradley M. Kuhn has suggested that no one should use a language that is controlled by any one company, no matter how friendly that they appear. We’ve already heard a lot of complaints about the C# implementation in Mono, which revolve around the same sort of situation. If programmers leave Java, the way Bradley has suggested, Oracle’s lawsuit may kill the golden goose.

The problem is that corporations are effectively sociopaths. They have no morals. They see no tomorrow. The only thing that matters is today’s profits. While certain individuals controlling corporations are less short sighted, the vast majority aren’t. The corporation may be your ally today. Tomorrow, it may be your enemy.


Wayne Borean

Saturday September 4, 2010

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