Should Android be paranoid?

Oracle has filed a claim against Google in the US Federal Court claiming patent and copyright infringement. 

The claims relate to Google’s use of the Java software platform in their Android operating system for mobile handsets.  Oracle bought the Java software and associated patents and copyrights when it purchased Sun Microsystems earlier this year, and Google makes the Android operating system available for free to handset manufacturers and app developers. 

The origin of Oracle’s claim is the fact that Google built part of the Android system from scratch to allow Java-based applications to run without the use of Oracle’s own Java compiler.  Cutting out the Oracle compiler affects Oracle’s business model, because while Oracle offers some Java applications on a free open-source basis, the use of Oracle’s Java compiling software is subject to a licence fee.  Oracle has now responded by claiming that Android’s use of Java places Google in breach of Oracle’s patents and copyright. 

The Oracle statement of claim (reproduced here) describes seven counts of patent infringement, and one count of copyright infringement.  The claim of copyright infringement asserts that Google has unlawfully used and reproduced the Java materials, and induced handset manufacturers to engage in unauthorised use and reproduction.  

Oracle has asked the US District Court in the Northern District of California to prevent Google from distributing Android.  Oracle has also asked the court to make Google pay Oracle the “gains, profits and advantages” made by Google as a result of the alleged patent breach. 

The case raises some interesting questions about how an ‘open-source’ licence relates to software patents and trademarks. 

It is also interesting to see that Oracle is asking the District Court to order that “all copies [of Oracle’s code] made or used in violation of Oracle America’s copyrights…be impounded and destroyed or otherwise reasonably disposed of”.  What this might mean for those of us who use Android on our phones every day is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that Google and its handset manufacturers will want to avoid ending up in the position of RIM when the BlackBerry service was on the receiving end of an injunction. 

IP Whiteboard will be following this case closely.  It represents one of many intellectual property issues arising from the increased everyday use of mobile devices, and given that Java has previously been closely linked with the open source community, it will be interesting to see how Oracle intends to enforce its rights without discouraging the use of Java in open source applications.  You can see some of our previous posts in this area here and here

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