Saturday 14 August 2010
I don't know much about the Google/Oracle dispute so I'll limit my remarks, but here they are:
I don't understand why Oracle is doing this. They may wish Google was using Java ME, but I would have thought having more developers using Java was good for Java overall. Probably there are important background discussions we are not privy to.
Dalvik is open source, but it's very much a Google project that Google happens to release under an open source license, rather than a community project. So I think of this as two big companies scrapping rather than Oracle launching an attack on the open source community.
However, this extends a disturbing trend of large mainstream companies using software patents to attack competitors, especially prominent in the mobile space. Observers of software patents, including myself --- and even Bill Gates in his infamous 1991 memo --- have always seen that volumes of easily obtained software patents on straightforward ideas could be a powerful weapon to crush competition; software development is so inventive that most programmers daily write code that someone patented somewhere. Fortunately, for a long time, other than "patent trolls", serious industry players declined to use that power. But now that grace has departed and I fear patent armageddon is upon us. In the end the open source community is likely to be particularly hard-hit, since it's easy to detect infringement, and open source communities have limited funds for defense. People have argued that open source communities are less of a target because they have less money to extract, but the most dangerous suits are about shutting down competition, not about extracting licensing fees --- like this Google/Oracle suit, apparently.
Overall I'm extremely gloomy about the situation. A world where each programmer has to be shepherded by a dozen lawyers through patent minefields is not one I will enjoy working in, and it will be disastrous for the progress of software. I call on employees of Oracle, Apple and other litigating companies to protest to their management in the strongest possible terms, including resignation. Google and Mozilla are hiring :-).
It's little consolation that some enlightened countries --- like New Zealand, apparently --- will hopefully remain free of software patents. A software company --- or an open source project --- that can't do business or get distribution in the USA or many other countries (including most of Europe, given the 'method patent' regime) is somewhat crippled.