Feeds

Java daddy says Sun engineers ran 'goofiest patent' contest

Just how 'laughable' is Oracle's Google suit?

Boost IT visibility and business value

Sun engineers once ran an unofficial competition to see who could get the "goofiest" invention past the US patent office, according to former Sun man and Java founder James Gosling.

In suing Google over its use of Java on Android, Oracle is waving seven Sun patents, and one of them carries Gosling's name. In a blog post sparked by the suit, Gosling says Sun didn't pay patents much heed until the company was successfully sued by IBM for infringing on its so-called RISC patent. Then Sun went on a "patent binge", and yes, this included some less-than-serious filings.

"Even though we had a basic distaste for patents, the game is what it is, and patents are essential in modern corporations, if only as a defensive measure," he writes. "There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system."

Gosling's entry was a "Method and apparatus for providing dynamically configurable electrical switches." He says this "wasn't nearly the goofiest." But, we should add, his entry wasn't patented.

No, Gosling doesn't claim that the seven patents waved by Oracle were part of Sun's "goofy" contest. But he played both sides of the fence — the goofy and the ostensibly serious — and you have to wonder if the same goes for others named in those seven patents. You might even wonder if there is a fence. In filing their goofy patents, Gosling and his colleagues were attempting to expose the goofiness of patents filed in all seriousness.

"We got sued by IBM for violating the 'RISC patent' — a patent that essentially said 'if you make something simpler, it'll go faster'. Seemed like a blindingly obvious notion that shouldn't have been patentable, but we got sued, and lost. The penalty was huge. Nearly put us out of business."

In a blog post of his own, Java coder, JRuby lead developer, and former Sun employee Charles Nutter doesn't call Oracle's seven patents "goofy." But he does call them "laughable."

"The collection of patents specified by the suit seems pretty laughable to me. If I were Google, I wouldn't be particularly worried about showing prior art for the patents in question or demonstrating how Android/Dalvik don't actually violate them," he writes. "It feels very much like a bunch of Sun engineers got together in a room with a bunch of lawyers and started digging for patents that Google might have violated without actually knowing much about Android or Dalvik to begin with."

That said, Nutter originally claimed that one of the seven patents didn't apply at all, before changing his mind. This "mixed mode" patent describes a system that can execute interpreted code and compiled code in the same virtual machine, and though Dalvik, Android's virtual machine, once handled nothing but interpreted code, it does mixed code as of Android 2.2, codenamed Froyo.

But this only enhances Gosling's portrait of the patent world. What seems laughable may end up being very serious indeed. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Mozilla keeps its Beard, hopes anti-gay marriage troubles are now over
Plenty on new CEO's todo list – starting with Firefox's slipping grasp
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Cloudy CoreOS Linux distro declares itself production-ready
Lightweight, container-happy Linux gets first Stable release
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.