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Patent battles don't get much more serious than this. A U.S. magistrate has ordered Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) chief Larry Page to negotiate directly with Oracle's (Nasdaq: ORCL ) Larry Ellison to settle a patent dispute relating to the Android operating system. The two are scheduled to meet next Monday at 9 a.m. PT. Further conferences could also take place between Sept. 20 and 30, court filings provided by The Register say.
At issue is Java, the platform and programming technology the database king acquired when it spent $7.4 billion on Sun Microsystems in 2009. Oracle says Android infringes on Java patents originally issued to Sun for the way that it translates Java code before executing it inside a built-in virtual machine.
Google, naturally, disagrees, and no less than Java creator James Gosling sided with the Big G after taking a job there. He's since moved on to become the chief software architect for a start-up called Liquid Robotics.
Not that it would matter if he were still at Google. The company's attempts to make Andy Rubin, its top Android executive, face off against Ellison failed when Oracle complained to the court. So now it's Larry vs. Larry -- the rookie (Page) versus the legend (Ellison), whose reputation for ruthlessness is well known.
Just ask SAP (NYSE: SAP ) . Even after a judge vacated a $1.3 billion jury award in a years-old case involving ill-gotten revenue derived from a breach of internal Oracle systems, the database king has vowed to fight on. Never mind that the court says Oracle is due $272 million; Ellison and his team want all $1.3 billion.
Meanwhile, Page isn't even a year into his new role as Google CEO. He's been canceling some projects, beefing up others, and in the process aiming squarely for Facebook and other would-be social-media rivals.
I get the sense that Page didn't offer Rubin as Google's representative to insult Oracle -- although it was taken that way. I think he bowed out because (a) he doesn't believe that negotiating with Oracle is a priority, and (b) he'd rather not negotiate with a company known for getting its way.
Perception matters here. Google investors aren't just betting on the business; they're betting on Page and his ability to win while going up against tough competitors such as Apple, Microsoft, and, yes, Oracle. What if Ellison beats him the way he beat SAP? I hope you're prepared, Mr. Page. The outcome of this dispute matters a lot more than you may think.
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