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

Oracle Vs. Google

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.)

Jessica Thornsby

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