Summary: A look back at Professor Moglen’s words about Java and last week’s talk about software patents; a Microsoft-fueled agitator attacks Apple, Cisco and other Microsoft rivals using patents
TECHRIGHTS has covered software patents for several years, correctly foreseeing them as a major barrier to Free software adoption. A few days ago in LinuxCon Eben Moglen made the case for abolishing software patents, but there were signs of defeatism in his transcripts (no signs of video/audio yet). Moglen did not know at the time that Java too was about to be slapped by Oracle. Here is what he said about Java several years ago.
Here is one last bit of overage which we found about Moglen’s talk (there are more in the previous post).
Eben Moglen, director-counsel and chairman at the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), has long stood at the forefront of the free software revolution. At LinuxCon this week, Moglen delivered a keynote address in which he lauded the movement’s many successes, ending with the capacity crowd giving him a standing ovation.
“At the beginning of this conspiracy of ours, we wanted to make it happen that freedom would go inside of everything, and then we could turn it on,” Moglen said. “We are making freedom useful to people.”
Based on this news, another patent troll/parasite which Microsoft paid to settle is attacking rivals of Microsoft (see background on VirnetX [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] and compare to Eolas [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8] or Uniloc [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7], which did exactly the same thing):
After being awarded $200m in a patent-infringement case that it brought against Microsoft, VirnetX has now gone after Apple, Cisco Systems, and others.
In a brief statement announcing the lawsuit, VirnetX accused Apple, Cisco, NEC, and the self-described “leading global enterprise communications provider” Aastra of violating five of its patents, each related to a greater or lesser extent to VPN.
We have come across comments on these cases (e.g. VirnetX, Eolas, Uniloc) which say Microsoft paid them to essentially attack Microsoft rivals (we don’t subscribe to this theory though). Groklaw opines that Microsoft paid Acacia by settling a dispute just as SCO was paid directly by Microsoft (for UNIX). Here is Groklaw’s latest take on SCO:
SCO Group’s Chapter 11 Trustee, Edward Cahn, has now filed the monthly operating reports for June, as well as bills for Ocean Park Advisors for June and July. And take note: there’s no hearing in bankruptcy court on Monday. Once again, it’s called off.
The new SCO in town seems to be Oracle and we have just prepared some graphics for it (click to zoom, feel free to share):
As for predictions, I’ll make only one: whoever wins will also lose. Because this suit is going to negatively impact – probably substantially – Java adoption. The enterprise technology landscape is more fragmented by the day, as it transitions from .NET or Java othodoxy to multi-language heterogeneity. Oracle’s suit will accelerate this process as it introduces for the first time legal uncertainty around the Java platform. Apple and Microsoft will be thrilled by this development, and scores of competitive languages and platforms are likely to see improved traction as a result of Java defections.
Clearly, Java was one of the Sun crown jewels, so the question is, what to do with it? Since Sun would presumably be quite happy to license the patents to Google, that suggests that the motivation is monetary rather than strategic. It’s less clear to me what the strategic value would be to Oracle to prevent Google for incorporating Java into Android, or to impede the marketplace generally from relying on Java.
The problem for Oracle is that the Java elements that Google used were “clean room” versions of Java developed by a third party. But while clean room versions may not violate Oracles’ copyrights, creating a clean room version may have little or not impact on avoiding patent infringement. Interestingly enough, Oracle is alleging copyright infringement as well as patent infringement. But while Google may be able to rewrite the elements to beat the copyright allegations going forward, it will still be liable for damages, if Sun wins, for the copies of Android that are already in circulation.
“When your stock price is at $3 or $4, your war chest is not big enough to go up against an opponent like Google,” the source said.
In addition, Sun didn’t want a repeat of the extremely distracting lawsuit against Microsoft. Gosling was trapped for months in Washington, D.C., dealing with the suit, rather than with Java engineering, and his colleagues threw him a big party upon his return to his preferred vocation.
Oracle, though, evidently isn’t so deterred. It possesses the financial strength to pursue the claim against Google, despite likely counterclaims that will increase the expense of the lawsuit.
But Google’s a big, influential, and growing company, too, and Oracle now has a new enemy in Silicon Valley among at least some of its employees. One is Tim Bray, an Android evangelist at Google who previously was Sun’s director of Web technology.
It raises very serious questions about the company’s stewardship of other open source technology that it obtained during the acquisition of Sun. The resulting uncertainty will likely not be conducive to retaining the customers and mindshare that Sun had built around certain open source products. It will also likely have a serious chilling affect on community involvement and third-party contributions. It’s important to recognize that the impact of this lawsuit will be felt far beyond the scope of Java and will also influence perceptions of other key open source projects obtained by Oracle, such as the MySQL database system.
Google’s response to the lawsuit doesn’t come as a surprise; any concession even insinuating that it did anything wrong could cost the company millions in either a judgment or a settlement. It’s likely Google will argue that it’s not committing patent infringement because Java is an open-source software; Google mentioned open-source standards not once, but three times in its statement. Sun released most of Java’s code as open-source software in 2006.
The patent system is seriously messed up, as this new post from TechDirt helps show:
Bas Grasmayer points us to the claim that the Austrian town of Frauenkirchen has apparently tried to patent the fact that it represents the geographical midpoint of Europe…
Patenting must have boundaries. Otherwise there’s a crisis. And that’s what we have right now. █
“Oracle Corporation opposes the patentability of software. The Company believes that existing copyright law and available trade secret protections, as opposed to patent law, are better suited to protecting computer software developments.”
–Oracle Corporation (years ago)