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Opensourcers get personal over Ellison's Google fight

Urge 'principled stand' against Oracle

Open source advocates are asking you to write to Larry Ellison to protest about Oracle's damaging decision to prosecute Google over Java.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has also promised to gather information on prior art to attack the seven patents Oracle claims Google's violated in its implementation of Java on Android.

Meanwhile, the group has encouraged Google to take a "principled stand against all software patents" by fighting Oracle, rather than settling behind closed doors – as so often happens in such cases.

After a long silence on Oracle's suit, announced on August 13, the FSF has joined the battle saying it will damage Java because developers will avoid the language rather than risk a potential prosecution if Oracle doesn't like what they're doing.

The FSF has a vested interest in seeing the action defeated, as it was the group's GPL license that Sun Microsystems used to released Java under in 2006. A victory for Oracle, or some kind of closed-doors settlement with Google, could potentially leave Java open to further suits elsewhere while opening the door to trolling activities against the GPL.

The FSF said Sun, now owned by Oracle, had done the right thing by releasing Java under the GPL, because it would make Java a language with first-class support in the open-source world.

But FSF license compliance engineer Brett Smith wrote Thursday: "Oracle's lawsuit threatens to undo all the good will that has been built up in the years since."

He continued:

One of the great benefits of free software is that it allows programs to be combined in ways that none of the original developers would've anticipated, to create something new and exciting. Oracle is signaling to the world that they intend to limit everyone's ability to do this with Java, and that's unjustifiable.

Smith encouraged letter writers to flag up the fact Oracle's done a U-turn on patents. It opposed the patentability of software in a letter to the US Patent and Trademark Office, 16 years ago.

In that letter, Oracle said patents were inappropriate for industries such as software where development: "Occurs rapidly, can be made without a substantial capital investment, and tend to be creative combinations of previously-known techniques."

Sixteen years ago, the industry was a different place, and Oracle was still up and coming being just 14 years old. The battle of who would be king in databases was not yet clear, as Oracle was fighting not just IBM, but also Sybase and Ingres.

Microsoft, meanwhile, had just worked with Sybase and Ashton-Tate to build its first (shaky) versions of its SQL Server database. With such co-operation and technology transfer between the companies, it's easy to see why Oracle would have squealed at ideas in software being patented and swapped around to give a newcomer a leg up or help rivals consolidate.

Now Oracle's number one, and it sees patents as vital to holding the ground it won during those hard-fought days.

But the FSF is not giving Google a free pass. Smith criticized the search giant for its ambivalence on patents in the past, for not taking a clear stance on patents and for not building Android on the GPL-covered implementation of Java called IcedTea. It used a subset of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF's) implementation called Harmony instead. Apparently, it's the Harmony connection that Oracle's acted on.

The group noted programmers would only be free from legal actions such as the suit Oracle's launched at Google once everybody is forced to disarm. ®

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