Oracle's lawsuit against Google over the Java-derived Android reveals an aggressive plan to profit from the Java platform, which Larry Ellison called "the single most important software asset we have ever acquired." But by turning to the courts and picking a fight over copyright and patent issues, Oracle may ultimately create a chilling effect over the Java ecosystem and big open source projects throughout the industry.
The initial complaint Oracle filed with the courts is blessedly short and simple. Oracle says that Android violates both copyright and patent rights that it acquired from Sun.
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The copyright claims seem difficult to justify: The Java codebase has been open source for years, and Google's Davlik virtual machine is a clean-room implementation of Java technologies. But just the fact that Oracle thinks it can sue over ownership of open source code ought to scare open source developers without access to Google's legal resources, and perhaps even bring back memories of the bad old days of the IBM-SCO fight.
Harder to dismiss are the claims over various patents, all of which seem to describe in somewhat general terms functionality at the heart of Java. Broad "method" patents are a source of uncertainty and danger in the software industry as a whole. Java inventor James Gosling, who left Sun not long after the merger and whose name is on one of the patents, says wistfully that "filing patent suits was never in Sun's genetic code," but apparently Oracle feels no such compunctions. Still, as Bruce Perens points out, the Java Language Specification grants patent rights to companies that build clean-room implementations of the language.