Finances Vs. Fragmentation – Why Didn't Sun Sue Google?

Oracle Vs. Google

Jessica Thornsby

Did Sun and Google stalemate over fragmentation, and was it just financial concerns that kept Sun and Google out of the courtroom?

James Gosling has thrown some more light on the Sun/Google
situation, in the days before Oracle took over the company.

Although briefly alluded to in other blogs, Gosling goes into
greater detail concerning the Google and Sun stalemate over JavaME.
Gosling writes that Sun objected to Google’s vision of making the
Android platform free to handset providers, because of their “weak
notions of interoperability.” Gosling views the oft-discussed
subsequent fragmentation of the Android platform, as proof that Sun
were correct in the assumption that a free smartphone platform
would result in interoperability issues. “There is enough
fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the
freedom of software developers,” he concludes.

Despite Gosling’s statement, the debate as to why Sun didn’t sue
Google at the time is still a hot topic in the blogosphere. For
Stephen Shankland, it all comes down to finances. He repeatedly draws
contrasts between Oracle and Sun’s financial situations, even
quoting a source “familiar with Sun’s work at the time” who stated
that lack of financial clout was one of the reasons why Sun didn’t
sue Google. Shankland plucks a few facts and figures from Sun’s
history, which support his hypothesis that Sun was a company more
likely to sue in times of financial solvency. In 2004, Microsoft
paid Sun $900 million to resolve patent issues – a lawsuit that
began in the “lucrative center of the 1990s tech boom.” By
contrast, when Google announced Android, it was 2007 and Sun’s
financial health was suffering.

Not everyone agrees with this. Stephen O’Grady is quick to dismiss the idea of low cash reserves staying
Sun’s hand. “Companies with failing financial fortunes in my
experience are generally more inclined to seek legal remedies to
their problems, not less,” he argues.

Or, was it Sun’s concern over their reputation that kept Google
out of the courtroom? Stephen O’Grady points out that Sun’s rocky
financial position meant that it couldn’t risk the fear and doubt
that a lawsuit would spread throughout the Java community.
Furthermore, after Sun chief executives such as Gregory
Papadopoulos blogged publicly about patents being “contracts
among us with the mutual self-interest of accelerating and
sustaining innovation,” suing Google over their own innovations,
would have damaged the reputation of prominent Sun figureheads.

Oracle’s complaint can be read in full (pdf.)

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