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Litigation Frenzy in the Mobile Arena

Unless you have been living on the other side of the universe for the last few months, you will be aware that Oracle America Inc (was Sun Microsystems Inc, now isn't) is suing Google Inc over software patents associated with the JVM that they claim are being used in Google's "clean room" implementation Dalvik. It is not totally clear what the overall goal of the litigation is, except that Oracle intend to make a profit by it - even though they are annoying essentially all of the Android and Java community in the process. It is probably that they want a better future for Java ME in consumer mobile technology than is currently likely. Given the competition is Windows Mobile, iOS, and Android, attacking Android seems like the easiest path of the moment.

In any event Google has made a response to the initial complaint (I am not a lawyer so cannot comment on how good or bad the response is in law, but it seems sort of OK(ish) from a technology perspective). Oracle has now (via the same lawyers who managed the SCO vs. IBM, and SCO vs. Novell cases, for SCO - hummm..., indeed) have taken the "interesting" route of asking for significant chunks of Google's response to be ruled inadmissible and struck from the record. Most pundits seem to indicate that this might be a ruse to separate Google from the support of the massed ranks of the FOSS community. If anything though, it is likely to increase spending on Android phones and increase the overall Java doubt that is washing over the community just now. As Shakespeare so nicely put it: "O time, though must untangle this, not I".

Of course Android is also getting in the "neck" from Microsoft (vendor of the very, very weak in the market, Windows Mobile). Microsoft are trying to use software patent related techniques to extort () money from makers of Android phones who are based in the far east. One assumes this is not simply a mechanism of supporting US manufacturers against cheaper competition, one assumes this is a last-ditch attempt to save Windows Mobile from the dustbin of history. The strategy here is fairly obvious, either get an income stream from people selling Android phones or force them to switch from Android to Windows Mobile and therefore get an income stream from straight licencing - as opposed to patent troll extortion. Sadly HTC already caved in to the Microsoft "demanding money with menaces" (*) approach. This leaves the other manufacturers rather exposed. At least though HTC continues to make Android phones rather than switch completely to Windows Mobile. So there is some hope.

Defenders of the American Way (of Business) will of course say this is just capitalism working as it should. Sadly in a sense they would be more or less right. Capitalism is after all about exploiting exploitation. Software patents are a tool and so we end up with the litigation frenzy we are seeing. Of course the only real winners are the lawyers. Consumers, and their needs and wants, generally come very low down on the list of concerns for all these corporate types. The danger of software patents though is that they can be more than just a tool for big corporates to slug it out. Software patents can be used to curtail any form of competition from the minnows and indeed curtail any form of development by people and organizations not big enough to compete in the litigation slug-fest. Getting rid of software patents will stop this problem and allow small players to innovate. The big players will then find other tools to continue their slug-fest approaches.

An interesting side question is: how are Intel and Nokia viewing all this? The follow up is: and when is MeeGo going to be available on phones so we can see if it is real competition to iOS and Android or whether it is destined for the dustbin of history (as Windows Mobile seems to be) before it has even come to market? Another one for time to sort out I guess.

(*) _ It seems almost ironic that states make extortion by individuals or organizations illegal, except in the case where the state gives a licence to an individual or organization to undertake extortion by issuing patents. _

(*) _ Demanding money with menaces is also illegal in most states, except where the state licence the act by issuing patents. _

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