Oracle v. Google: The Trial and the Errors

With all the fabulous and exciting technologies to talk about here in the world of FOSS — the shiny, brand-spankin’-new Ubuntu Linux 12.04, to name just one — it always seems a crying shame to have to waste any breath at all discussing lawsuits.

Discuss them we must, however, because in today’s litigious landscape, a few powerful software giants keep coming back for more.

The latest example? None other than Oracle v. Google, of course, and an ongoing saga that just keeps going on and on.

Now well into its second week, the trial is the focus of global scrutiny, and more than a few Linux bloggers are up in arms. After a few rounds of Peppermint Penguins down at the seedy Java Joint blogobar, Linux Girl got an earful.

‘A Hole You Throw Money Into’

“Oracle should thank Google for making Java relevant again,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol told Linux Girl, for example.

“Instead, they go after the money Google rightfully earned with a lawsuit that looks like a scam: ‘Oh, you are making money from Java, then start to pay us,'” Ebersol added.

“Larry Ellison likes his yachts, so he knows the boat owner’s definition of a boat: ‘a hole in the water that you throw money into,'” began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “Oracle’s purchase of Sun evokes the same image.”

‘Trolling for Dollars’

Oracle has little to show for the US$7.4 billion spent on that purchase, Hudson suggested.

“MySQL? Forked. OpenOffice? Forked, then given to the Apache Foundation — the same Apache Foundation that supplied Google with the Harmony ‘Java’ class libraries,” she pointed out. “And all those Java patents?

“Most have been tossed out after being re-examined by the patent office, and Oracle’s court case against Google for ‘billions of dollars’ has already been whittled down to, at most, ’30 to 42 million’ for copyright claims — if Oracle wins, which is unlikely,” she added.

“This whole soap opera feels like a SCO re-run,” Hudson concluded. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, Oracle losing won’t be enough to dissuade the next patent troll, because win or lose, the lawyers who push the ‘trolling for dollars’ game will still make money.”

‘The End for Oracle’?

So far, the trial has revealed little new information, Google+ blogger Linux Rants told Linux Girl.

“The lead-up was so long that most of both Google’s and Oracle’s cases has already been seen in the media,” Linux Rants explained.

Timothy Bray’s testimony, however, could have a significant impact, he added.

“It’s already been heavily implied that Oracle only decided to sue Google in lieu of bringing their own product into the market, and the comments he made during the Open Sourcing of Java could very well spell the end for Oracle,” Linux Rants concluded.

‘The Biggest Barrier to Innovation’

“It’s interesting to me that we have David Boies pushing the same arguments about the copyrightability of APIs that he did in the SCO trial,” mused consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“It seems like he really wants to present this argument to the courts, but I wonder if he knows or even cares that the computer industry will be seriously damaged if he succeeds in convincing the courts of his point of view,” Mack added.

On the other hand, “unless the judge takes leave of his senses and allows APIs to be copyrightable, the effects will probably be minimal,” predicted Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien.

“The real lesson here is that software patents are probably the single biggest barrier to innovation and growth in the technology industry,” O’Brien concluded.

‘Copyright Does Not Apply’

Indeed, “Oracle v Google shows the world how hollow IT is with software patents and non-FREE software,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed.

“The bluster about $billions owed turns out to be $millions, if anything, and if Java is GPLed then the APIs are free to use,” he explained. “Copyright does not apply to names and parameter lists, according to the court, so the whole API of Java should be fair use, and Google only needed a small part of it for Android/Linux.”

Pogson’s only concern “is that the lawyers are figuring this out as they go along and may make some bad choices resulting in years of litigation and a straight-jacket for IT,” he told Linux Girl. “It’s obvious to me that the judge should have ruled on summary judgment against violation of copyright on APIs for Free Software. It’s a waste of time to deal with that at trial. I expect by the time all the evidence is presented, the judge will excuse the jurors and apologize for wasting their time.”

In short, “why was copyright not kicked out months ago?” Pogson wondered. “Software patents are both invalid and not applicable in this case because software is not patentable, and the USPTO has rejected most of them on re-examination. Oracle has no patent on smartphones or tablets.

“This is SCOG v World all over again, and Boies is again making money over bogus claims against FLOSS,” he concluded.

‘The Height of Insanity’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a different view.

“In the end it comes down to a simple question: Does a company have the right to control a language they invent or bought?” he explained.

“Either you believe that there should be NO controls whatsoever, the flipside of which would mean making any language licensed under GPL null and void, or they do have control, in which case they get to say what you do and don’t do with the language,” he explained.

“But making it it a whole ‘good vs. evil’ thing because one company pays some lip service is the height of insanity,” hairyfeet concluded.

‘Every Developer Should Be Watching’

Last but not least, Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, said he’s glad to see the case go to trial rather than be settled out of court.

“It involves one of the primary unaddressed questions in software copyright — namely, what are the copyright implications of using someone else’s APIs,” Travers explained. “I suspect that this decision will be a very technical question which will be settled on the basis of questions of copyright law doctrines, but it has tremendous implications for all software developers, particularly those who engage in open source software development.”

Copyright was “never supposed to be about controlling what software can act functionally like another program or how two programs can interact,” he added.

“This case gets to the heart of this issue and asks what, exactly, copyright protects in software,” Travers concluded. “While this is a complicated issue with software, in part because copyright (which protects expression and not function) is a very poor fit, the case is one every software developer should be watching.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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