Recently Oracle has sued Google on patent and copyright claims, demanding satisfaction regarding a – for want of a better word – functional equivalent of Java for Android named “Dalvik”. A voice has pointed out that I have not been as talkative as when I announced my public support to the merger between Sun and Oracle. Now it is time to respond.
I certainly do have an opinion, but also have legal and moral obligation that impose me a duty of care before reacting. When I have accepted formal instructions from Oracle I knew I was limiting my ability to say publicly what I think the exact moment when I think it. This is not unlike all the times I accept instructions from other – including not-for-profit – clients. At the same time I considered that the impending threat was so high that, since I had the abilities, the opportunity and the public stance to act, I had to work to remove it. When I accepted the instructions, I did it under one very clear condition: nobody is allowed to tell me what I have to say, and I will not say anything that I do not believe true. To date, I have never had to remind this to my clients.
So much for the background. Then what is my take on this legal battle, in the unlikely case somebody is interested? I suppose it is not a secret that I do not like patents very much – I think their time is over and the system is broken –, and I am totally against software patents. Therefore I am totally against claiming software patents in court. By anybody against anybody. I am against it when it is Microsoft suing TomTom, I am against it when it is Alcatel suing Microsoft. And I am against it when it is Oracle suing Google, as I would be if it was the other way round. Of course I have no rights to impose my unwanted opinion to anybody, nor my clients are obliged to follow it. Given my outspoken belief and public activity (including on a professional basis) against software patents, such opinion would have been in open conflict of interest anyway. End of the story.
A few voices retorted that I was not equally shy of words short of one year ago, and questioned at the very least my ability to see in the future when I predicted that Oracle would have never used its patent portfolio against Free Software projects. I beg your pardon:
- first, I don't have or ever claimed to have a crystal ball and I am anyway not such an amateur to vouch for what a company would do in the future.
- Second, well, I have never said anything like that.
- Third, even if I had said that, it remains to be seen if that would have been wrong or not.
In the oft-quoted “Let the Sun Shine in (Oracle)” I wrote:
“To the best of my knowledge, Oracle is not asserting its patents against Free Software projects. But others could.”
To the best of my recalling, I have named Oracle just three more times on my blog, and have never said anything different or contradictory. Do I recant what I said because of its consequences, in the light of the recent developments? No. I still believe that my intervention was the best decision, and I am in good company. I say it again: I stand behind my decision to help the merger 100% and, looking back, I am totally in agreement with myself.
This is not just a rant, otherwise I could end up my storytelling here or, better, avoid publishing it altogether. Those brave enough to read to the end might still be interested in what I have to say further.
Somebody said this is just the first instalment of a massive and lethal attack on Free Software by Oracle, and accordingly I would be the Neville Chamberlain (or perhaps the Benito Mussolini) in the imminent Oracle vs. Free World War. Scary, but just a few think this can be the true story. Others have just pointed out that Oracle is a corporation, corporations make money, it just makes sense that if there is a revenue stream, the corporation just goes for it, regardless the collateral damages. I find this idea more compatible with the current scenario, but it would be equally scary. Also this could lead to a number of actions, perhaps fewer of them, but equally scary. I cannot entirely rule out that this is the case, absent a binding commitment by the company, and it would silly of me putting my neck on such a bet under the current circumstances.
What is worth knowing is that I have received clear reassurances that this is not the case, and that these reassurances come from inside the company, at a reasonably high level. Accordingly, Google is said not to be the first of a numberless series of actions, but a special case where Oracle feels it needs to pursue the judicial way. In other words, I am reported that Oracle is not pursuing a patent royalty revenue stream from the formerly Sun's (and its own) patent portfolio or to block other developers' or commercial entities through a patent stranglehold. Surely this is not what is in my wishes, and Google is surely not happy to have been singled out, but it is better than the darker scenarios above.
I don't want anybody to believe my words as such and by all means to be lead into thinking that this is a reliable prediction of what it is going to happen, unless you hear the same from an authorized representative of Oracle (please, by all means question them directly). Just trust that I am not simply uttering sourceless nonsense, for what it is worth.