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 Java inventor says he filed goofy patents for fun

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PostSubject: Java inventor says he filed goofy patents for fun   Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:29 pm

One of the inventors of the Java technology that Oracle is suing Google over has said that he and his team used to compete to file the silliest patents because the patent systems itself was so absurd.

Java is a programming language designed to run on almost any platform, and it was invented by Sun Microsystems, a US computing giant that has a history of commitment to open source technology.

Sun was bought by Oracle last year. Oracle announced last week that it would sue Google, claiming the search giant "knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property" when developing its Android mobile operating system.

James Gosling was Java's original designer and was later the chief technology officer of its Developer Products Group and its Client Software Group. He left the company after the Oracle takeover.

He has written in a blog post of Sun's disdain for and mockery of the patent system. It is a mockery whose results, in the form of granted patents, could still form part of Sun's and now Oracle's intellectual property resources.

"In Sun's early history, we didn't think much of patents. While there's a kernel of good sense in the reasoning for patents, the system itself has gotten goofy," he wrote. An IBM patent lawsuit that nearly put Sun out of business changed that, he said.

"We survived, but to help protect us from future suits we went on a patenting binge. 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 said.

The 'binge' went beyond sound protections, though, as the engineers expressed their distaste for the patent system in a novel way.

"There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. My entry wasn't nearly the goofiest," he said.

The entry he refers to is for a "method and apparatus for providing dynamically configurable electrical switches", a patent application that was filed in 1994 and later abandoned.

Gosling's thoughts on patents chime with those of its pre-Oracle chief executive, Jonathan Schwartz, who described in a blog post how the company only filed patents to use defensively.

"Sun had a treasure trove of some of the internet’s most valuable patents – ranging from search to microelectronics – so no one in the technology industry could come after us without fearing an expensive counter assault. And there’s no defense like an obvious offense," he wrote earlier this year.

Google's Android system, which is the target of Oracle's Java patent suit, has grown enormously in popularity in recent months as a competitor to Apple's iPhone operating system.

Gosling describes in his blog, though, how Sun was not keen on some aspects of Google's plans.

"When Google came to us with their thoughts on cellphones ... they had very weak notions of interoperability, which, given our history, we strongly objected to. Android has pretty much played out the way that we feared: there is enough fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the freedom of software developers," he said.

"Google did have a financial model that benefited themselves (that they weren't about to share). They were partly planning on revenue from advertising, but mostly they wanted to disrupt Apple's trajectory, and Apple's expected entry into advertising. If mobile devices take over as the computing platform for consumers, then Google's advertising channel, and the heart of its revenue, gets gutted. It doesn't take much of a crystal ball to see where Apple is going, and it's not a pretty picture for Google or anyone else," he said.

Oracle claims that Android infringes on seven patents that it inherited when it bought Sun.

"Google’s Android competes with Oracle America’s Java as an operating system software platform for cellular telephones and other mobile devices," said the complaint. "The Android operating system software 'stack' consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a 'Dalvik' virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation."

"Android (including without limitation the Dalvik VM and the Android software development kit) and devices that operate Android infringe one or more claims of each of United States Patents Nos. 6,125,447; 6,192,476; 5,966,702; 7,426,720; RE38,104; 6,910,205; and 6,061,520," it said.
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