Welcome to the Google-Oracle patent circus

The two tech giants are slugging it out over Java in a San Francisco courtroom, but it's hardly the Greatest Show on Earth

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and get your front-row seats. For a limited time only, the Oracle-Google Larry & Larry Circus will be performing in the big tent, otherwise known as the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Already this week, Google CEO Larry Page chased fellow clowns Sergey and Eric through the courtroom with a seltzer bottle, while Oracle chief Larry Ellison rode around the jury on an elephant. (We think it was an elephant; it may have just been one of his attorneys.)

[ Also on InfoWorld: Simon Phipps outlines the risks in the court case in "If Oracle wins its Android suit, everyone loses." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

In August 2010, when Oracle announced its plans to sue Google over the alleged use of proprietary Java code in Android, a great big "ka-ching!" could be heard throughout the land. Clearly Oracle was trying to cash in on the success of Android, and Google would likely just pay up to have the nuisance go away.

(It seems having even $36 billion in your pocket just isn't enough -- especially when you're paying alimony to half the women in Woodside, Calif.)

Of course, Oracle had nothing to do with the development of Java, but it acquired those patents when it purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009 for $7.4 billion. Since then, Oracle and Google have been negotiating over what it would cost to make the whole thing go away. The fact that the patent circus is in town means they failed to agree on a number.

(I am reminded of the old joke in which a lecherous old man asks an attractive young woman if she would sleep with him for $1 million. When she agrees, he drops the price to $1. Outraged, she responds "What do you think I am?" "My dear," he replies, "we have already established that. Now we are haggling over price.")

It is now clear that a major reason Oracle swallowed Sun was so that it could sue Google over the Java patents. In fact, James Gosling, who was the original designer of Java while at Sun and also logged time at Oracle and Google, confirmed as much in a blog post from August 2010:

Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer's eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun's genetic code. Alas....

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