Posted by:Monica Samuel September 22nd, 2011

Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, creator of the open-source Java environment, in 2009.

The acquisition raised justifiable concerns across the industry over Oracle’s reputation of being an aggressive competitor. The open-source value of Javaunder Oracle’s stewardship was shook up. As it turned out, the fears were not ill founded. Even though Oracle was very visible at the Linux Foundation’s annual LinuxCon conference last year, touting the open source community, it’s true intent became apparent when it sued Google immediately afterwards. The two-faced move obviously came out of Oracle’s concern over Android’s rising popularity and growth.

According to Oracle spokeswoman Karen Tillman, ‘In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property. This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement.’ What she’s talking about is Google’sDalvik virtual machine that uses a Linux kernel along with Apache Harmony library. It’s basically a clean room (built from the ground up), open source implementation of Java from the Apache Software Foundation.

That sounds alright, doesn’t it? But here’s where it gets tricky. Dalvik VM was developed independently, the bytecode it runs is different from Java bytecode, and even its way of executing code is not the same. But it combines with Harmony libraries and Apache did not get a Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) from Sun, a set of specifications Sun distributed on its discretion for others to create a competing virtual machine. This is where Oracle has Google’s throat.

Google says that Oracle’s lawsuit is ‘baseless’ and represents an attack against the broader open source Java community. While it’s hard to disagree on Oracle’s purpose, as far as the case goes, Oracle does have a leg to stand on. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney explained it succinctly, ‘They (Oracle) own Sun now and they want to collect the royalties on the language.’ And that’s the bottom line.

Open source technology has led to many innovations and contributed to the massive growth and propagation of the Web. However, patent infringements, even in the open source world, have blurred lines, making it easy to get into controversies and legal spats.

Just last Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup chucked out some part of Oracle’s lawsuit against Google while allowing the bulk of the case to proceed. It’s a small win for Google but just a very small one. The judge agreed with Google that the company had not violated Oracle’s copyright by using Java method, class, API and package names that Oracle said were copyright-protected. The next hearing is set for October 31.

With this lawsuit, Oracle is hurting its own chances as Google’s Android has been a major contributor in bringing Java back into the client side programming game and pulling in developers. If Oracle wins this lawsuit, Google could end up paying billions of dollars to Oracle every year in royalties. If the licensing extends to Android adopters (smartphone and tablet manufacturers), Android could become a much more expensive platform, hitting Android’s growth substantially.

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