So, what does it mean that Oracle has sued Google (NSDQ: GOOG), alleging that Android infringes on its Java patents? There are a ton of theories out there, but first some background on the lawsuit and the players involved, including Google’s commonality to Java and how it — or its partners — may be overstepping the bounds.
There’s some history to this lawsuit. Java was originally developed by Sun Microsystems, and was recently acquired by Oracle when it purchased Sun in April 2009. Initially, the programming language was promised as a way for developers to “write-once, run anywhere,” however, that proved to be much more difficult than originally thought. Regardless, Java’s “mobile edition” has long been used by mobile phones.
As far as Oracle’s connection to Google, Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, was previously the CTO at Sun, where he led the development of Java.
Gizmodo reports that Google said in a statement today, “We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit. The open-source Java community goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the web a better place. We will strongly defend open-source standards and will continue to work with the industry to develop the Android platform.”
The actual compliant (via Engadget), filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California, goes a little deeper than the press release, and hints that Google itself is not the problem, it’s the device manufacturers. It claims that the device manufacturers must obtain copyrighted versions of the Java platform to use on Android devices. “Such use is not licensed,” it says, adding that Google has “induced, caused, and materially contributed to the infringing acts of others by encouraging, inducing, allowing and assisting others to use, copy, and distribute” these copyrighted works.
HTC and Motorola (NYSE: MOT), two of the leading Android handset makers, did not reply to requests for comment. UPDATE: An HTC spokesman replied, saying no comment.
As for what the impact could be to the rest of the industry, there’s a few ideas floating around:
— According to the WSJ, Google was widely assumed to have rights to use Java under a licensing agreement, though the companies never announced a deal. The suit is “very perplexing,” said Kim Polese, a former Sun manager who subsequently worked with open-source software. “Everyone is using Java.” Sun was often criticized by investors for making little money on Java. Oracle, on the other hand, seems determined to wring more profit from Sun’s intellectual property. WSJ.
— “The fact that Oracle has chosen to sue Google over its implementation is sure to cause concern in the wider Java community.” Ars Technica.
— Mary Jo Foley writes that the lawsuit could be good news to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), which is just gearing up to release Windows Phone 7. “Even though the Redmondians have no love for Oracle and consider the company one of Microsoft