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Oracle sues Google over Java patents – the Beginning and the End



Note to readers: I did not write this Oracle vs. Google article per-se. It was originally written by Eldar Murtazin of www.mobile-review.com. However, the original article is in Russian and was never translated in the English section of his site.

I find this to be one of the most interesting and deeply analytical articles on Oracle vs. Google case that I’ve read, and I wanted to share it with you. So I went ahead and translated it to the best of my ability, trying to convey Eldar’s ideas without changing the technicalities of the subject. I hope you like the article, and that I did not go off tangent, when translating it. Here is part one of this 3-part series. If / when Eldar writes next parts I will post them here for you.

However, since we all now know the outcome of the case, I think that parts 2 and 3 will never be published. I will include the details of the final verdict, below the article.

Nature of Oracle’s Java lawsuit agains Google:

Oracle is known to buy up companies and then “milking” their patent portfolios. This was one of the main ideas behind the Java lawsuit against Google. However, decision was not purely financial: Oracle’s CEO – Lawrence Ellison was also a close friend of Steve Jobs. Jobs promised a “thermo-nuclear war on Android”, which was one of his personal missions in life. Even before Jobs passed away, mr. Ellison promised to wage and win this “war on Android” as respect and commemoration of Steve Jobs. In Aug. 2010, Oracle officially filed their lawsuit against Google.

Enter Eldar: Oracle vs Google

We are witnessing this decade’s most epic law suite and its result may very well turn Android from a free operating system into a platform with sizable licensing fees payed out by Google or its partners. If Google looses this case, it will owe Oracle millions of dollars, which will undoubtedly have an impact on Google’s business. In a series of articles, we will analyze the basis for Oracle’s claims against Google, the reasons why they surfaced only in 2011, and the contending claims of each side.

As a result of Oracle’s active and even somewhat aggressive position, the public is now privy to Google’s internal documents related to the initial days of Android’s development. These unique documents allow a close look into the history of this project from the perspective of an insider, and the opportunity to learn about the factors that fueled the work done by Google’s engineers and developers. If you are expecting to see a descriptive analysis of the court proceedings, you will be disappointed, this article will focus on a number of different issues that relate to this case. Without delving into the details of technology, we will not be able to fairly assess the positions of opposing parties. I hope that this discussion will be as intriguing and exciting for you as it is for me.

What is Java and why are there feuds around it?

In December 1990, SUN Microsystems began developing an alternative to C++. The Stealth Project’s founder, Patrick Naughton, was not pursuing a vision of creating a universal language, he was simply looking to find solutions to a number of shortcomings present in C++. SUN’s goal was to develop applications for embedded systems, which were characterized by a small size memory and weak processors. Utilizing C++ under such conditions seemed impossible, and the search was out for a new language that could overcome these limitations. James Gosling, who was an engineer, joined the project and the project’s name was changed to Green Project. The new team set the parameters of the language, and its primary function needed to be the ability to run code on different devices ranging from large to small. Also, there was a need to free programmers from clearing device memory, and controlling the system’s resources, which would make writing program code simpler and would avoid many run-time errors.

At first, Gosling tried to modify and improve C++, but soon dropped the idea. Instead, a new language was born, which he named “Oak”, after oak trees growing outside his window. In the summer of 1992, this language was already used in the prototype of a Palm Pilot – Star 7. The team was separated into a separate company, since SUN found its prospects to be highly promising. At the time, there was a hot market for game consoles, cable boxes and their applications, which could be programmed in Oak, running in the Green OS environment. All efforts to make profit in this market turned out to be futile and it became clear that the platform needed to be used somewhere else. In the summer of 1994, the project’s team began looking for a new application for its development, and Eric Schmidt, who at the time worked for SUN and only later made a move to Google, participated in these deliberations. The team decided to try using Oak for the internet, as the potential of this platform was clear. As a prototype, a graphic browser called HotJava (first named WebRunner) was created. In 1994, the technology was ready to be demonstrated, but it turned out the copyright to the word “Oak” belonged to a different company, and after searching for a replacement, the name Java was chosen. In 1995, Netscape announced that it will support Java in its browsers, and on January 9, 1996, SUN made a decision to create a separate division dedicated to developing Java.

So what is Java? It is an independent platform, which allows to execute the code that was once written on any operating system and any hardware. Java’s mantra is write once – run everywhere. This is achieved via Java Virtual Machine, which is unique for each OS and contains everything necessary for work. Essentially, SUN created a sandbox for each operating system and programming was simplified for optimal convenience. The only factor that a program needed to consider was the physical limits of the devise: size of the screen, information output, etc.

For this analysis it is not critical to know how Java continued to be developed. The important factor that needs to be noted is that in October 2006, SUN announced that the platform will be free and open. Source codes with the exception of a few libraries were going to be published by SUN within 60-90 days, which is precisely what happened.

Unfortunately, SUN did not succeed and was sold to Oracle. Already at the time of initial meetings between SUN and Oracle, it turned out that Oracle had its own vision of what it could gain from different companies as a result of the merger. For example, Oracle thought that Google was using Java illegally and took Google to court in August 2010. Gosling’s blog describes this event in perfect detail.

You can read what Gosling wrote about SUN on your own. Here we will site his words in the context of our current discussion. He states that SUN was not in the habit of securing patents for all of its technologies and it dearly paid for this oversight when IBM filed a lawsuit with regard to RISC processors and won. The price for the loss was exorbitant, and the very existence of SUN was up in the air. However, the company managed to survive, and as a protective measure started getting patents for absolutely everything. There was even an informal competition among SUN’s employees as to who would secure the most trivial patent.

Open source software can never be absolutely free or open, it always limits someone or something that you can do with it. Therefore, there was a fight in SUN for the compatibility of Java between different operating systems. When Microsoft agreed to work with SUN, a contract was signed regarding Java’s compatibility, but Microsoft quickly breached it. Microsoft wanted Java-programs developed on the Window’s platform to work exclusively within Windows environment. At this point, SUN filed a lawsuit and won.

For mobile devices in particular, the problem of compatibility of programs and their codes has always been a headache (Remember the number of existing Java MIDP, and how depending on the phone’s brand the program either worked or failed). When Google approached SUN with the idea of developing its own OS for telephones and making it free, it turned out that Google understood very little about code compatibility; the exact issue that SUN has already come against and was working on resolving.

The question of money was a major divisive issue between Google and SUN. Google, in developing a free platform, was intending to make profit on advertising as well as counter Apple’s efforts in that same direction; the company was planning to enter the advertising market in that exact moment. One does not need a crystal ball to predict the future development of mobile devices, which have already started to dominate the market. This threatened Google’s advertisement model and the company needed to respond. In turn, SUN wanted to receive monetary compensation for its efforts in developing and supporting Java, but Google’s financial model simply had no place for it.

Gosling asks for his words to not be interpreted as support for Oracle’s claim against Google. In his opinion, no side is without fault in this battle: “This feud is not about programming language, programming principals or anything of the sort. The claim is about ego, money and power”.

In April 2010, Gosling leaves SUN/Oracle and gets more freedom to comment on what has happened in the past. In particular, in April 2012, Gosling commented on an article that misrepresented his views, saying: Just because SUN did not go to court over patents because it simply was not in our DNA, does not mean we were not offended. Despite our disagreements with Oracle, they are right in this case”.

In Gosling’s perspective, Android is a platform in which each phone manufacturer goes and develops something unique, when there are no clear guidelines about what is allowed and what is not. This means that from a “semi-finished” product there is an equal possibility of creating something great as well as something nonsensical. He believes that it is important to pay SUN licensing fees for the patent, as it helped avoid this chaos. However, Google did not want to collaborate with SUN as far as payments for Java.

Compatibility of Java’s Programs: what is Oracle fighting against and how did Google respond?

In 2005, the market was dominated by phones that executed various Java programs and it can be said with certainty that the mobile apps market was a Java market. Unlike desktop versions of Java that did not have compatibility issues in the mobile space, Java did face compatibility issues on some devices. First, there was a number of editions of Java Micro Edition (this is a phone version)- CLDC (Connected Limited Device Configuration), PPS (Personal Profile Specification), MIDP 1.0/2.0 (Mobile Information Device Profile). Secondly, phone manufacturers were inputting their own libraries, so that the developers could better use phone hardware, which also created the need to develop different programs for different brands. There is no point in speaking of Java’s compatibility. SUN made numerous futile efforts to stabilize the situation, but the dynamic nature of the mobile phone market made it impossible.

On the other hand, Google was interested in using Java for one simple reason – this was the dominating language in mobile devises, which means that Google would need to spend extra time training its programmers to write code for Android had they chosen another language or created their own. However, the devil is always in the details. SUN was licensing Java with terms GNU GPL (c classpath exceptions for Java ME). In accordance with these terms, any developer had to get an approval for all changes made to the operating system and they had to conform to the GPL license. At the same time, Google’s idea was that each vendor could build his own unique modifications to the platform, which would distinguish it from others. Within SUN’s license terms this was not possible. The free platform had to turn into a paid platform, since each vendor needed to sign a license agreement with SUN and pay licensing fees for it. This was not an acceptable option for Google, as it would loose control of its own platform.

Google found a different solution – it borrowed Java’s ideology, in which a virtual machine is used to execute code and called it Dalvik. Their next step can be considered very interesting – the company borrowed Java’s open project Harmony, which was being developed on the terms of Open Source and had an Apache license ( it allows the usage of one’s own proprietary code as well as the freely accessible one – an ideal option for Google). As a result, out of many different freely accessible components, Java’s analogue was born, having the same syntax programming language, similar API, but no compatibility with SUN’s product. This lack of compatibility is clearly demonstrated in one of Oracle’s presentations.

In 2007, the story continued to unfold: Google presented SDK to developers and completely dropped the idea of compatibility with SUN’s Java. No demands or answers to SUN’s questions were provided. In essence, Google took the route of creating its own platform, and there was a big concern of Java’s popularity among programmers. Getting ahead, it is safe to say that Google succeeded in creating an eco-system on the basis of SUN’s vision, something that SUN worked hard on and fell short of making into reality. As evidence of this, Oracle sites the fact that API names and their implementation in Android is copied from Java. In total there are 37 APIs as well as their supporting documentation presented as evidence. The story hinges on the fact that if these APIs were to be taken out of Android, the system simply would not work, as they are an integral part of it. In modern court history, there is no precedent of a law suite regarding the right to APIs, rather than to the program itself. This case is unique and things are not clear – cut here. At this point, Oracle’s position looks very promising, the company is constantly attacking, and as a result Larry Page as well as other Google employees have been summoned to court.

Why is this court case so significant?

It is possible that in the course of this hearing, lawyers will find a number of interesting points as well as unexpected turns in terms of the law itself. However, we are most interested in a different perspective: as you could glean from the article, Google tried to avoid signing a license agreement with SUN, wanted to make its own platform incompatible with Java and wanted to avoid paying license fees on its own and its partner’s behalf. Oracle’s position is to have the opposite situation come to pass; if it succeeds, then momentarily Android’s platform will cease to be free. Depending on the amount of licensing fees, court ordered penalties and sanctions (their mildness or harshness), we shall see price increases for phones on Android, and their attractiveness to companies will decline. This is an ideal moment for other players to cease Google’s vulnerability, and manipulate the situation in their own favor. Microsoft will be on the winning side, since the terms and conditions for Windows Phone and Android will begin to level. If Google looses this case, it will not be the end of Android, but it can lead to very far reaching consequences most of which are impossible to predict at this point, since many factors still remain unknown.

Now that we have analyzed the core sticking points driving this battle, our next articles will discuss questions related to this trial. For example, in the next article you will read about how Google envisioned Android and devices operating on it, before launching the platform. This is a unique opportunity to look into the history of the most popular platform for Smartphones and be surprised at how much things have changed. In the third article, we will take a close look at the trial itself, the arguments presented by each side and the ways in which the representatives from each side conducted themselves. This account is not only about facts, but also about people’s behavior, their emotions and the conflict of whether to strive to win no matter what it takes or to save the company’s face. Believe me, up until now, the quiet mobile market has never seen such an intense flare up of emotions.

P.S. The information presented here is not aligned with the common topics either the readers or I are used to discussing. However, I believe that the subject is important enough to warrant this discussion. At the moment, these articles are not a priority, but if you liked them, go ahead and spread the word in the social networks. Based on your reactions I will know whether I need to speed up the publication of the next two articles in this series. Thank You. End of Eldar’s Article

Google wins Java lawsuit – what does it mean for us and for the future of mobile phones and tech industry:

In a sequence of decisions made in May 2012, Judge William Alsup presiding over the case, throws out Oracle’s claims agains Google, over Java, and Java APIs.

May 5th: Judge Alsup throws out 129 claims, leaving 3 on the table.

Currently, there are 132 claims from seven patents asserted in this action, and there are hundreds of prior art references in play for invalidity defenses. This is too much. The following schedule will ensure that only a triable number of these items — three claims and eight prior art references — are placed before the jury in October, all others to be forsaken. Oracle will surrender all of its present infringement claims against Google based on the 129 asserted claims that will not be tried. Oracle may not renew those infringement claims in a subsequent action except as to new products.

May 31st: Judge Alsup rules on Java Application Protocol Interface (APIs):

The overall name tree, of course, has creative elements but it is also a precise command structure — a utilitarian and functional set of symbols, each to carry out a pre-assigned function. This command structure is a system or method of operation under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be copyrighted. Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability…

Copyright Act 17 USC Section 102, paragraph b:

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

Essentially Judge Alsup concluded that Oracle’s Java APIs are not copyrightable, because the US Copyright Act says that you cannot copyright the “idea, procedure, process, system, method”, which APIs essentially are.

As expected, Oracle promised to appeal, but it is highly unlikely the decisions will change. The Android platform will remain free from “Oracle tax”.

You can read Eldar’s original article here: Mobile-Review – Google vs Oracle part 1.

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