Oracle Lawsuit Claims Google Slurped Its Java

Oracle on Thursday filed suit against Google for patent and copyright infringement in the latter’s development of the Android operating system.

Google “knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property,” according to the suite, which “seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement,” Oracle spokesperson Karen Tillman said.

It’s not clear whether the lawsuit will force Google to stop development work on Android and Chrome, or whether it will impact the Android Market.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

“We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open source Java community with this baseless lawsuit,” Google spokesperson Aaron Zamost told LinuxInsider. “The open source Java community goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the Web a better place. We will strongly defend open source standards and will continue to work with the industry to develop the Android platform.”

Oracle did not respond to requests for further comment by press time.

The Bones of Contention

Seven of the counts in the lawsuit are patents, but the eighth pertains to copyright, Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told LinuxInsider. The copyright count alleges that Google and some of its partners have used Java code out of compliance with Java licensing requirements.

“Google implemented its own Java Virtual Machine (JVM) as part of Android,” Hilwa explained. “We don’t know which parts of the Java code contain the patents being validated, but it looks as if some of the patents refer to low-level code like a Java virtual machine, while others refer to the framework.”

Google’s JVM is “Dalvik,” which it uses in Android. Dalvik is based on the Apache Software Foundation’s Harmony implementation of Java Standard Edition (SE), Hilwa said. “Dalvik’s” legitimacy may be called into question because there is some debate over whether Harmony is compliant with Java or is a fork that might undermine the standard.

The Apache Foundation needs to certify Harmony with the Java SE test compatibility kit, but Sun, and now Oracle, have not been cooperative, Hilwa said.

Despite this, Google insists its hands are clean.

“Google says its “Dalvik” technology is a ‘clean room’ version of Java that doesn’t use any Sun technology or intellectual property, but Oracle claims Google hired Sun engineers who provided it proprietary information,” Hilwa explained.

On the face of it, Oracle may have a case.

“Google has a lot of ex-Sun Java folks who likely brought stuff along with them, thinking correctly that Sun wouldn’t care,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider. “I doubt Google ever expected to be threatened by Sun.”

Perhaps the highest-ranking ex-Sun executive at Google is the company’s own CEO, Eric Schmidt. He was the chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems, where he led the development of Java.

The Aroma of Fresh Java

After Oracle completed its purchase of Sun Microsystems in January, there was much concern that the new owner would clamp down hard on Java. Some in the Java community considered Oracle a more closed company that was less favorable to open source than Sun was.

“This lawsuit reflects the worst fears of those who believed Oracle would never follow Sun’s lead in open source,” Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider. “Oracle was always clear about Java being the crown jewel of the Sun deal, and no one expected it to simply let Java run free,” he added.

“Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise,” James Gosling, the father of Java, wrote on his blog. He also pointed out that the suit involves only one of his patents — RE38,104 — and expressed hopes he would not be dragged into the battle. Gosling’s blog has since been taken down, but has been cached here.

“Even prior to Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, some pointed out that a parallel implementation of Java could possibly expose Google to claims of patent infringement,” IDC’s Hilwa pointed out.

The Art of War

Oracle will have to show that Google violated Sun’s intellectual property, which now belongs to it, Enderle said.

Google’s best defense would probably be to work out a mutually acceptable agreement with Oracle, Enderle opined. One possible option is to link Android and the Chrome operating system to Oracle’s products for business applications in exchange for an inexpensive or free Java license.

“Larry picks his fights, and I don’t remember the last time he lost, so Google may not realize they are screwed,” Enderle remarked. “They don’t have deep litigation protection and really aren’t set up for this kind of a fight yet, though I imagine they will be before this is over,” he added.

“This is a great opportunity for Google to extend its services to mobile, and it will fight Oracle as long and as hard as it has to, or it will pay what sees as reasonable fees,” Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

“If Google settles, many in the open source community who consider Oracle’s suit an affront will be aghast,” Pund-IT’s King pointed out. “Google has the cash and the brainpower to take on Oracle. However, I’m not sure it has the stomach to do so.”

Getting Inside Larry’s Head

In launching the lawsuit, Oracle may simply be protecting its turf. The Oracle Enterprise Application Platform is Java-based, for example, and Oracle has done a lot of development work on Java.

Or perhaps Oracle CEO Larry Ellison just wants to cash in on the burgeoning demand for Android devices — about 200,000 Android smartphones are sold every day, according to Google.

“I expect Android’s stunning success is driving the move,” Pund-IT’s King said. “That translates into Oracle trying to monetize intellectual property it now owns.

“Larry doesn’t want to go into the advertising revenue business like Microsoft has been forced to enter, largely unsuccessfully, and appears to be moving on Google as an alternative,” Enderle opined. “His goal is likely to either convert the company to a more traditional revenue model where he shares heavily in that revenue or eliminate it.”

Oracle may also be looking ahead to the future.

“The market’s shifting from feature phones to smartphones, and Oracle’s role in mobile Java will be diminished if Android doesn’t license Java,” IDC’s Hilwa said. “Second, Oracle wants to secure the future integrity of Java in case Android becomes even more successful on non-phone devices and competes with Java in other areas.”

Hitting Android Where It Hurts

Oracle is reportedly asking for damages and an injunction against Google from using Oracle’s intellectual property in Android.

“There is a substantial risk that Google may have to pull Android from the market and delay the Chrome operating system,” Enderle predicted. “Also, this puts a big red flag on Android, as those developing for it may suddenly find that it’s being pulled and in the process of being substantially changed,” he added.

However, other analysts are more optimistic.

“I doubt there will be much effect unless Oracle requests and is granted an injunction against the sale of Android phones using Dalvik,” Pund-IT’s King pointed out. “I wouldn’t expect that to happen in the short term,” he remarked.

“Apple’s threat to HTC didn’t stop HTC because they had Google’s support, and Apple posed a greater threat to HTC than Oracle does to makers of Android devices,” the 451 Group’s Hazelton remarked. “Those makers understand Oracle’s targeting Google, which has very deep pockets.”

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