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Oracle’s Java lawsuit

Oracle’s Java lawsuit undermines its open source credibility.

The issue at hand: Oracle sued Google Thursday for violating patent rights on Java. The heart of the beef stems from Google’s use of the desktop version of Java, which is not licensed for use on smartphones, to develop the Android smartphone operating system.  Google could have used the Java Micro version, as RIM’s Blackberry and other phones use, but chose instead to give a better smartphone experience by paring down the desktop version. Oracle, which acquired Java when it bought Sun Microsystems for $5.4 billion, objects to Google’s cavalier use of Oracle’s intellectual property.

The linked article argues that because Java is open source, Google should be allowed to do pretty much anything it wants with Java. However, this ignores the fact that Sun, and now Oracle, own and control through patent licensing how Java can be used.

Google built an enormously profitable business largely by harnessing the value of no-cost open source software such as Linux and MySQL. Oracle is an enormously profitable software company that builds most of what it sells and knows every nuance of extracting value through fees for licensing supporting, and maintaining its largely enterprise software products. It’s not hard to connect the dots and see that Oracle believes it has caught Google with it’s proverbial hand in the cookie jar. The solution, to use the quaint terms of economics, is for Oracle to extract rents from Google and the Android food chain. Plus legal costs.

Java is plain-as-day strategic for Oracle, especially the Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) that my research shows are consuming about 45% of enterprise software development dollars (Microsoft gets an equal share). Java is inextricable from Oracle’s plans to deliver an integrated stack of software from the Sun hardware to the user interface at the application level, with all the system software in between. The Oracle-Google law suit should have no direct effect on enterprise IT planners.

In suing Google, Oracle sends a message that it is reasserting its rights to control how and where Java is used. The open source community, which has loud champions who expect everything for nothing — a notion I do not support, will benefit through Oracle’s stewardship from an unfragmented tree of Java implementations. Yes, Oracle will profit from from Java license fees. But those fees are to Oracle a golden goose. Oracle would be nuts to kill off smartphone Java by overpricing licenses and allowing Apple’s iPhone to win the smartphone battle.  That won’t happen.


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