As Eric Bangeman at Ars Technica explains, there isn’t much detail about Oracle’s complaints beyond a press release posted earlier today. Bangeman speculates that Sun’s hostility when it still owned the IP underlying Java towards an Apache attempt for an open re-implementation may be the earlier trajectory leading to this announced suit.
The questions that arise in my mind stem from Sun’s efforts before it was gobbled up by the database giant to free Java. Only seven patents are mentioned by Oracle which may be reasonable, that all others are off limits via patent grants or similar arrangement. Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet’s Open Source blog confirms this and more broadly argues that participation by both companies in patent defense pools should in theory forestall such a suit.
All the same, Java specifically has a touchy history with third party implementations, most notoriously when Microsoft released an altered version back in the nineties but still labeled it as “Java”. That same spirit may animate this instance as Oracle very clearly calls Google out for intentional infringement, using the words knowingly and willingly. I read that as a signal that they would have been receptive to a license deal bearing stipulations for appropriate brand marks or that they may yet be open to settlement for a piece of the lucrative Android pie.
It is understandable that Oracle would be protective of one of the highest profile elements of its acquisition but targeting Google seems downright foolish. They are no slouches in these sorts of actions, employing some wickedly smart lawerly and policy folks. If push comes to shove, Google could undoubtedly shift away from anything resembling Java to the detriment of Oracle and the wider community of developers who use Java.
Even if this threat goes nowhere, damage has already been done. Oracle is sending a clear signal that the engineering and curation of Java is nowhere near as important as the money making potential of its IP. That may not have been their intent but that is how many who would otherwise support Java are going to read this story. It is really quite hard to read it otherwise, especially considering the near simultaneous news that Oracle is effectively killing OpenSolaris.
Oracle sues Google over use of Java in Android, Ars Technica
Oracle-Google suit challenges open source establishment, Open Source at ZDNet
The Future of OpenSolaris Revealed, Slashdot