There are two kinds of patent trolls:
- those who buy a patent for a widely used technology and sue over it
- those who create a technology and promote it with few strings attached and then sue
Oracle has turned out to be the first kind. They appear to have purchased Sun with the intent of going after Google and others over Android.
I am not that familiar with Java. I don’t code it and I run few applications which use it. That’s because I have mostly standard PCs and the usual desktop applications do the job. Java was designed for software portability. If you have a Java Virtual Machine for any mind of computer, an application written in standard Java will run on it. That’s a great idea that Sun implemented but could not turn into a huge cash-flow. Sun was advertised for sale and Java was one of the top properties. Oracle and IBM wanted it but Oracle was the highest bidder/most determined. Now we know why. Oracle wants to tax implementations of Java. The simple solutions are to pay the tax so that Oracle achieves the dreams of SCOG v World or to drop Java. Both solutions are problematic because the tax can run for many years on billions of devices and the cost of migrating hundreds of thousands of applications to other language(s) would be immense. The difficult solution is to fight but that will be time-consuming, expensive and fraught with risks and delays that no one wants.
In the normal course of events this might be settled with cross-licensing but Google has promoted Android as a Free Software solution and the cross-licensing will not propagate to all the users and applications. I doubt Google could afford to pay the tax for the world for billions of devices. That leaves fighting as the best solution. Both Google and Oracle must have already discussed the situation. Normally this would be done quietly. By filing the suit, Oracle has damaged Google’s interests and Google has to fight. The world will be waiting with bated breath hoping the collateral damage is acceptable. On the bright side, within a few years, Oracle’s patents could be disallowed and possibly all software-patents could suffer the same fate. There is no way a virtual machine is a “particular machine”.
I think it is clear that Oracle does not get FLOSS. They could have developed far more elegant, useful and productive ways of profiting from Java without suing the world. Instead they roll the dice hoping to get lucky and not lose software-patents, good-will, even Java. If they are successful Java could be killed, certainly on the mobile devices where it is quite important.
The issues will emerge in future filings and arguments in court but they seem to centre on creating a “non-standard” Java VM breaking the patent-truce declared for use of the “standard” Java VMs from Sun. I have no idea how Oracle feels copyrights were violated since Google wrote their own code.
This appears to be the springing of the Java-trap that Stallman warned about. Can the world create an alternative to Java and port all these apps to spite Oracle in a year or so? Don’t say .NET because it and mono have the same problems as Java as far as software-patents, reliance on an unreliable “partner”. I do not see how Google can lose ultimately but the lawyers for Oracle are the same bunch who dragged out SCOG v World for 7 years and counting. The world of technology cannot wait even one year in uncertainty. The world will move on while these two fight. no doubt Oracle will seek injunctions which could affect a very wide circle.
UPDATE One little detail gleaned from GROKLAW is that Oracle has retained legal firms from both sides of SCOG v Novell. Boise, Schiller, and Flexner represented SCOG and Morrison and Foerster represented Novell. While it could be that a large corporation may well deal with more than one law-firm. I suspect that Oracle tied up both because they are expert at the copyright/patent game and have had years to practice in SCOG v Novell and it would be helpful to Oracle if Google could not use them due to conflicts. How would you like to be Google going up against that gang when Boies, Schiller and Flexner kept the world at bay for 7 years with no evidence at all? On the other hand, they are probably the first firm you would call if you were a patent-troll.