FSF responds to Oracle v. Google and the threat of software patents
Though it took longer than we would've liked, Sun Microsystems ultimately did the right thing by the free software community when it released Java under the GPL in 2006. We welcomed that news when it was announced; Java had long been a popular programming language, and we were hopeful that the change would make it a language with first-class support in the free software community.
Now Oracle's lawsuit threatens to undo all the good will that has been built up in the years since. Programmers will justifiably steer clear of Java when they stand to be sued if they use it in some way that Oracle doesn't like. 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.
Unfortunately, Google didn't seem particularly concerned about this problem until after the suit was filed. The company still has not taken any clear position or action against software patents. And they could have avoided all this by building Android on top of IcedTea, a GPL-covered Java implementation based on Sun's original code, instead of an independent implementation under the Apache License. The GPL is designed to protect everyone's freedom—from each individual user up to the largest corporations—and it could've provided a strong defense against Oracle's attacks. It's sad to see that Google apparently shunned those protections in order to make proprietary software development easier on Android.
But none of that excuses Oracle's behavior. An aggressive infringement suit over software patents is a clear attack against someone's freedom to use, share, modify, and redistribute software—freedoms that everyone should always have. Oracle now seeks to take these rights away, not just from Google, but from all Android users.
Ultimately, the decision about how to respond rests primarily with Google; they're the party named as the defendant in the suit. The FSF encourages Google to fight Oracle's claims, and take a principled stand against all software patents.
How you can help:
We are collecting information about the case, including information about prior art that could be used to attack the patents, on the End Software Patents wiki. This could be useful not only for Google's case, but also for other parties that Oracle might sue in the future. If you have new information to add to that page, we'd be happy to have your contribution.
Oracle was previously opposed to software patents. That the company is now using patents as its primary weapon to attack competitors is a stunning reversal of that position. Write to Larry Ellison and respectfully ask him why Oracle is attacking free software with software patents. You can remind him about the statements Oracle made in 1994, like this one:
Patent law provides to inventors an exclusive right to new technology in return for publication of the technology. This is not appropriate for industries such as software development in which innovations occur rapidly, can be made without a substantial capital investment, and tend to be creative combinations of previously-known techniques.
Oracle once claimed that it only sought software patents for defensive purposes. Now it is using them to proactively attack free software. It's not the first company to make this about-face, and unfortunately it probably won't be the last. Today Google claims they need software patents for defensive purposes, but the reality is that programmers will only truly be safe from software patents when everybody is forced to disarm. Join the End Software Patents mailing list to keep up-to-date on software patent news and what you can do to help.
For more information, contact:
License Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942 x18