The future of the Android platform is hanging by a lawsuit, and Google
You knew it was the start of a public spectacle when Oracle
Well, Google is taking this opportunity to call Oracle out for being a dirty, two-faced turncoat. When Java belonged to Sun and Oracle was a mere user of the software, the company pushed Sun to publish the code under an open-source license. That all changed when Java became an Oracle property, and this case has wide implications for the tech industry at large.
"It's disappointing that after years of supporting open source, Oracle turned around to attack not just Android, but the entire open source Java community with vague software patent claims," Google told TechCrunch. "Open platforms like Android are essential to innovation, and we will continue to support the open source community to make the mobile experience better for consumers and developers alike."
No big surprise
Of course, Oracle sees things differently: "In developing Android, Google chose to use Java code without obtaining a license. Additionally, it modified the technology so it is not compliant with Java's central design principle to 'write once and run anywhere.'"
And that stone-cold meta-response only enlarges the implications of this suit. At least some of the Java code is available under the GPL open-source license, which encourages others to not only use but to also modify the code. That makes the Oracle-Google suit an important test of that license's legal validity and may become the first true test of said license in American courts.
The real battle at hand
If the GPL is declared either invalid or unenforceable, the open-source model itself becomes very difficult to support or operate under. That's terrible news for Red Hat and Citrix Systems
In other words, Google is fighting the good fight for a much larger cause than just Android. Because Google doesn't collect license payments for Android, the platform could go dead today and Google wouldn't lose a nickel; in fact, the company would save money when it shuts down development and support efforts. The whole project is Google's effort to improve mobile Web experiences on every platform by pushing the technical envelope; keep Apple
Angel or demon?
If you still think Google is evil, you might jump to the conclusion that the company will just settle the suit, sign a Java license, and pass the costs on to consumers through license fees. That would be the easy way out, but it'd do nothing to defend the open-source model that Google claims to hold near and dear.
I believe we'll see a very different outcome. A drawn-out and expensive battle through layer after layer of appeals and maybe even retrials should lead to either a fully open-sourced Java platform or a full jury trial that settles the matter once and for all. It will take years, and Java itself may be obsolete by the time the case is closed. But this is the right thing to do, and Google will see support from an entire industry of open-source specialists.
Would Google be insane to go through all this trouble and expense for what I just called an inconsequential business operation? In a narrow sense, yes -- but there's a much larger game afoot that Google needs to win for the survival of its very ideals. Without them, the company is dead.
Continue the discussion in the comments below -- I'm running out of breath.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, International Business Machines, and Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.