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Oracle Sues Google Over Java in Android

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Late on Thursday, Oracle filed a copyright and patent infringement claim against Google over its Android operating system, opening a legal war between the Silicon Valley firms over the smartphone software platform.

Android has seen rapid growth since its first release in November 2007. Figures from Gartner for the last quarter show it ahead of Apple's iOS for the first time, though it should be noted that these figures were just before the launch of the iPhone 4 when inventory of the Apple product was tight. The top four smartphone OSes were Symbian (41.2 percent), RIM (18.2 percent), Android (17.2 percent) and iOS (14.2 percent).

The lawsuit, filed in Federal court in San Francisco, accuses Google of breaching seven patents that Oracle assumed when it acquired Sun Microsystems earlier this year. All these patents relate to Java:

  • 6,125,447, "Protection domains to provide security in a computer system"
  • 5,966,702, "Controlling access to a resource"
  • 5,966,702, "Method and apparatus for pre-processing and packaging class files"
  • 7,426,720, "System and method for dynamic preloading of classes through memory space cloning of a master runtime system process"
  • RE38,104, "Method and apparatus for resolving data references in generated code"
  • 6,910,205, "Interpreting functions utilizing a hybrid of virtual and native machine instructions"
  • 6,061,520, "Method and system for performing static initialization"

In a brief statement, Oracle said that Google had "knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property".

Android makes extensive use of Java, both in the core OS and in the software development kit (SDK). Whilst Google has also released the "Android Native Development Kit", enabling developers to build Android components with C and C++, the preferred method is based around coding applications in Java. These are then translated into bytecode that runs in Dalvik, Google's own custom VM. The core Java libraries in Android are based on Apache Harmony, an open source/free Java implementation from the Apache Software Foundation. As such Google's Android SDK implementation is largely independent of Oracle's, and Google doesn't pay Oracle any money for its use of Java.

Much of Sun's revenue model for Java revolved around license fees from mobile handsets and other OEM licenses, and there were concerns expressed in some quarters when Oracle bought Sun that it would seek to wring more money from its control of the software. It is widely assumed that Sun's refusal to license the Java SE 5 Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK), needed for the Apache Software Foundation to certify its Harmony implementation of Java SE 5, was as much about protecting this revenue model as it was about any legal issues.

The lawsuit marks Oracle's first attempt to exert its rights over Java. Larry Ellison, Chief Executive Officer, justified the Sun acquisition largely on the grounds that it brought Oracle control of Java.

At the time of writing Google has said it is still studying the complaint, a copy of which can be seen on VentureBeat, and is yet to comment.

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