Oracle (who by virtue of the acquisition of Sun owns Java) announced late on Thursday August 13th that it has filed suit against Google for infringing upon copyrights and patents related to Java. “In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property. This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement,” Oracle spokeswoman Karen Tillman said in a statement. The full complaint may be found here.
The issue appears to be related to Dalvik, a Java compatible Java Virtual Machine (JVM), that Google apparently developed in a “clean room” by people with no prior knowledge of how the internals of the Sun Java JVM worked. The result of Dalvik was that developers could use the Java language and Java development tools (like Eclipse), and that Google could put its JVM into the open source realm without having to deal with Sun or now Oracle in the process. Some of the key applications that run on Android like the email that is included in the smartphone OS are apparently written in Java and run on Dalvik. Whether it was in fact possible for Google to have a clean room when the CEO of Google is the former CEO of Sun (Eric Schmidt) and given the fact that several key Java developers now work is Google will remain to be seen.
Whether or not this claim has an merit or not is for Oracle to prove in court. The question for the virtualization community is does this matter? The answer might be yes. It could be yes because it is pretty easy to think of a parallel case to this that is a pretty important part of VMware’s strategy. That parallel case is the SpringSource Java compatible JVM Spring TC Server. SpringSource states that all Spring project are licensed under the terms of the Apache License 2.0. Therefore it would appear that the Spring works are in the clear as long as the Apache open source licenses are in the clear.
There are also numerous potential impacts to VMware beyond just the Spring TC Server itself. Recall that when VMware and Salesforce.com announced VMforce that the net result was a Java compatible PaaS Cloud running on a VMware infrastructure in a Salesforce data center. It is clear that the Java compatibility here comes from SpringSource. Another impact is upon the VMware deal with Google around Google AppEngine, which again turned the Google cloud into a Java PaaS cloud based upon the SpringSource technologies.
But it is also clear that Oracle has very different DNA when it comes to spending money on intellectual property and then “giving it away” in an open source manner. When Oracle bought Sun we hoped that Oracle would essentially leave the Sun Java team alone, and more importantly leave its open evangelism of Java alone. This clearly has not occurred and now it appears that Oracles penchant for wring the maximum amount of money out of its software assets is being applied to the Java portfolio. Could this be a precursor to an attempt to get licensing revenue out of the broader open source Java community? Oracle has certainly proven in the past that it is not lacking in the moxie (or perhaps the arrogance) to attempt such a move.
There is an interesting precedent to consider. Sun once filed a lawsuit against Microsoft alleging that Microsoft .Net was an infringement of Sun’s copyrights and patents in the same manner as Oracle is now alleging infringement on the part of Google. That suit was settled in April of 2004 with a broad agreement to cross-license intellectual property across the two companies. Now Microsoft can sit quietly on the sidelines and smile as it watches Google squirm. Microsoft knows that it has covered its bases with Sun, and can now watch the new and much more aggressive owner of Java take on two of its most feared competitors – Google and VMware.