The Grand War is over, and what we can learn from it

The grand war between Oracle and Google over the Android API is over, unless Oracle prevails on appeal. The judge and jury have spoken, and this is what they said: Android doesn't infringe on the couple of patents that were at play in the lawsuit. (Other patents that Oracle asserted were invalidated by the USPTO or not included for tactical reasons

You can read his opinion here. As legal documents go, it's a pretty easy read, and it gives a great background on the legal history of this kind of lawsuits. So, pour yourself a martini and get right to it.

Here are a couple of highlights.

Judge Alsup was dismissive of the “fragmentation” issue that we care about as Java champions. He sniffily said that's a mere “business” concern of no particular legal significance. In this day and age, where the desires of business seem to routinely trump public policy, that's a refreshing line of thought.

But think about it. There is more than a grain of truth to it. Sun was doing a really poor job at the time, fighting a rear-guard battle on Java ME in second-tier markets (albeit large ones), while smartphones were unstoppable in the first tier. No, LWUIT wasn't going to cut it. BlackBerry was polite enough to take out a Java ME license, even though I can't think of any essential Java ME app anyone ever ran on a BlackBerry device. Google, not so much. Sure, they were rude, and James Gosling didn't like it. But they had a credible API, and it seems better that it uses Java than some oddball alternative. Given that Sun and then Oracle had nothing to offer (LWUIT doesn't count), it would have made sense to join forces rather than to fight. More business sense. More community sense.

So, the takeaway his that we aren't going to get any legal protection when it comes to fragmentation or common standards. We've got to come together as a community and realize that there is a benefit in having common standards and common platforms, without trying to eke out momentary gains. By and large, Java has done really well on this, with the notable exception of mobile.

Now, here is the other interesting aspect. When you read through the history of copyright lawsuits, you'll be struck by how clueless the courts can be. Look at those dueling dental programs. Those judges, about as clued in as the senior managers who watch our demos, totally equate user interface with program structure. If two programs have similar screens, surely one must have ripped off the other.

But Alsup cuts right to the chase. Why? Because in a prior life, he wrote some code!!! He knows that rangeCheck isn't rocket science because he has coded something like it before. He told the Oracle attorney that he should be ashamed at himself, making a mountain out of a molehill, because deep in his guts he knew. Those judges looking at the dental programs didn't.

At Berkeley, the physics department teaches a course “Physics for Future Presidents”. Mostly {nuclear|nucular} stuff, depending on your political persuasion. In computer science, we need a course “Computing for Future Judges”.