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Oracle sues Google for copyright infringement over Android

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Aug. 16, 2010

Last week, Oracle has sued Google for patent and copyright infringement concerning the use of Sun Microsystem's Java technology in Google's Android operating system, setting the stage for a complicated and very expensive trial, if it does go to trial that is.

"In developing its Android operating system, Google knowingly, directly, and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property," Oracle's lawsuit suggests.

"Filing patent suits was never in Sun's genetic code," says James Gosling, a key Java creator. But Gosling, who earlier referred to Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison as Larry, and who became independent after quitting Oracle shortly after Oracle's Sun Microsystem acquisition, also got a good look at Oracle's 'Constitution' if you will.

"During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle, where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could already see the Oracle lawyer's eyes start to sparkle in a few directions. They also had dollar signs in them."

But to be fair, Google did reimplement some Java code on its own in its OS, well at least a bit of it, letting programmers essentially use Java to write their programs and including a key virtual machine component, called Dalvik, that translated those programs into the code that actually runs on Android MIDs (mobile Internet devices).

Of course, we all know now that technology cloning is a decades-old art in the computing and IT industry, and it often relies on a clean-room approach in which software engineers independently re-create how technology actually works to minimize legal risks. This is nothing new, and will probably go on as well for probably forever. How else are they supposed to work?

"And to be sure, there were certainly a lot of discussions going back and forth about how "clean-room" Google really could have done this," said one source familiar with how Sun responded to Google's Android moves.

Rich Green, then head of Sun's software group, said at the time that there's no clean room in Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered, that's really 'clean' enough, the source said.

We will let you interpret that comment on your own.

Significant Java expertise moved from Sun to Google, not least among them Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, who had been Sun's CTO years earlier. One notable Google hire in 2005 was Tim Lindholm, who had led mobile Java work at Sun and who co-wrote a book, "The Java Virtual Machine Specification."

Other Java engineers Google hired included Joshua Bloch, Scott Violet and Chet Haase, who according to his LinkedIn profile, works on Android after a post-Sun stint at Adobe Systems.

"Google hired a ton of Sun engineers who worked on Java," said another person familiar with the companies' relationship.

Although Android's success is relatively new for now, its software components aren't. Google announced Android three years ago and released the Android project source code a year later. As far back as 2007, Sun objected to Google's use of Java technology in a way that bypassed Sun, sidestepped the Java Community Process that oversaw Java, and contributed nothing to the mobile Java license payments that some say had reached more than a billion dollars a year for Sun Microsystems.

But by the time Google had completed its Android OS, Sun wasn't in a position of strength to sue Google, for some reasons that are still unclear at this time.

Responding to a RFC, a Google spokesperson said "We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source community with this baseless suit. The open-source community goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the Internet a better place to live and work. We will strongly defend open-source standards and will continue to work closely with the industry to develop the Android operating system."

As far as Java is concerned, the rather cold relationship that the technology is facing with Google was a dramatic reversal from 2005, when Sun and Google at that time announced a significant partnership that among other things meant Sun would distribute the Google Toolbar software with Java, that Google would promote Sun's OpenOffice.org software that competes headon with Microsoft Office, and that Google would increase its involvement in the Java Community Process.

It's amazing what just five short years can do to two companies.

Source: Oracle.

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