Oracle sues Starbucks over Java trademark

The surprise move may have a chilling effect on the development of other Java-related products, analysts say

In an aggressive move to protect the Java franchise acquired along with Sun Microsystems, Oracle has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, charging that its use of the term "Java" infringes Oracle copyrights.

"In its reckless use of the term 'Java,' Starbucks knowingly, directly, and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property. This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for that infringement," said an Oracle spokesperson in a statement.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and seeks a jury trial. Starbucks could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit. It was unclear Thursday if Oracle approached Starbucks to discuss its concerns before it filed the lawsuit.

Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems' Java technology when it bought the company in 2009. Java is a software environment that allows applications written in Java to run on virtually any computer so long as it has a Java virtual machine installed.

According to Bill Taborchek, an analyst with the 415 Group, no Starbucks coffee drink actually contains the word "Java" in its name. "You have to go pretty deep into the product catalog to Java Chip Frappucino Ice Cream [to find the offending word]," Taborchek said.

"On the surface it might seem to make more sense to sue a franchise like Java City," Taborcheck noted. "On the other hand, in absolute dollars, Starbuck probably sells more Java Chip Frappucino Ice Cream in a week than Java City sells coffee all year long."

The success of Java Chip Frappucino Ice Cream, delivered through such partners as Safeway, Wal-Mart, and Target, was clearly a factor in Oracle bringing the lawsuit, said Taborchek. "Oracle owns Java now, and they want to collect the royalties on the language," he said.

Although Starbucks offered no official comment, a Starbucks barista who asked not to be named felt the lawsuit had little merit. "I know someone in product development, and she told me Starbucks developed Java Chip Frappucino Ice Cream on its own, without copying any Sun, I mean Oracle, technology," he said.

Oracle alleges that Starbucks was aware of its copyrights and "willfully and deliberately" infringed on them. It also says Starbucks hired some of Sun's Java engineers to develop Java Chip Frappucino Ice Cream. It wants the court to block the alleged infringement and award it damages.

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