Oracle Says Google Android Violates Its Java Patents

Larry Ellison, chief executive officer of Oracle Corp
“Java is the single most important software asset we have ever acquired,” Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison said when he first announced the Sun acquisition. Photographer: Kim White/Bloomberg

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Oracle Corp. filed a patent- and copyright-infringement lawsuit against Google Inc., claiming its Android software for mobile devices uses technology Oracle obtained in its January acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc.

“In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle’s Java-related intellectual property,” Karen Tillman, a spokeswoman for Redwood City, California-based Oracle, said in a statement yesterday. “This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement.”

The suit, which Google called “baseless,” opens a new front in Silicon Valley’s smartphone software wars, pitting Oracle against the fastest-growing mobile operating system. Android, used on devices such as Motorola Inc.’s Droid X and HTC Corp.’s Droid Incredible, was the best-selling operating software in the U.S. in the second quarter, topping Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple Inc., research firm Gartner Inc. said yesterday.

“Google is under attack in a lot of different ways,” said Will Stofega, a program manager at Framingham, Massachusetts-based researcher IDC. “It shows the intensity of the fight between everyone trying to control the software.”

Oracle gained the Java programming language as part of its $7.3 billion purchase of Sun. Developed by Sun in the mid-1990s, Java lets developers write programs that work across different operating systems and on a variety of computers. It formed a key building block of the Web and is widely used in business applications. The software also runs on billions of mobile devices, Sun said last year.

Seven Patents

The complaint targets Google’s Dalvik virtual machine, one of the software programs used to run applications on the phones. Oracle claims the software was developed using the Java platform. Google hired former Sun engineers so it knew of the Java technology, Oracle said in the complaint.

Oracle, which claims seven patents are being violated, is seeking a court ruling that would ban further use of its intellectual property, and would force the destruction of all products that violate Java-related copyrights on the code, documentation and specifications. It also seeks an unspecified amount of cash compensation.

“We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit,” said Aaron Zamost, a Google spokesman. “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.”

Most Important Asset

Java was developed as a proprietary language that needed to be licensed from Sun. During the past decade, then Sun Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Schwartz began making open-source versions of Java products available. That means the code can be used freely by outside developers.

“Java is the single most important software asset we have ever acquired,” Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said when he first announced the Sun purchase. Oracle will continue to expand the Java business, he said at the time.

Oracle isn’t likely trying to take on Google, as much as wanting to squeeze higher royalties out of the company, said James Gosling, who created Java while working at Sun.

“Everything there is about money,” Gosling said about Oracle in an interview today. He resigned from the company in April, a few months after it bought Sun, according to his blog.

While Java is widely used in business applications, many new websites are favoring programming languages such as Ruby on Rails, which is also distributed under an open-source license.

“It’s part of an effort by Oracle to shore up their investment in Java,” Stofega said. “A lot of people would argue Java is losing its relevance versus other platforms.”

Spawning Patent Suits

Researcher ISuppli Corp. on Aug. 5 projected Android will be in almost a fifth of all smartphones in the world by 2012. It’s used on phones sold through Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp., while the iPhone is available only on AT&T Inc.’s network.

The popularity of Android, and the increasing competition in the smartphone market, has prompted other patent-infringement suits. Apple has claimed that HTC’s Android-run phones are infringing its patents and is seeking to block imports of the phones into the U.S.

Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software maker and owner of the Windows Mobile operating system, said in April that Android may infringe its patents. Microsoft, which signed a licensing agreement with HTC, said at the time it was in talks with other makers of phones that run on Android.

Oracle and Google will probably settle the case by agreeing to license each other’s patents, IDC’s Stofega said.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt previously worked at Sun. He joined that company in 1983, led its Java development efforts and then was promoted to chief technology officer. Schmidt took the reins at Google in 2001.

Oracle declined 28 cents to $22.66 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. It has dropped 7.6 percent this year. Google, down 22 percent this year, fell $5.66 to $486.35.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Ricadela in San Francisco at aricadela@bloomberg.net; Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net