Former Sun CEOs clash

Oracle vs Google – Sun CEOs offer different stances on Java API openness

Chris Mayer

An action packed day in California as Google and Oracle call a former Sun CEO apiece to bolster their case. Both also use dirty tactics to sully the other – quelle surprise.

Day 9 may just have provided one of the most intriguing days so far in the embittered court case between Oracle and Google over the Android platform, with two former Sun Microsystems CEOs called to the stand. And interestingly, they both offered alternate views on the openness of Java APIs

First up was Jonathan Schwartz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems from 2006 to 2010, testifying on Google’s behalf and arguably his answers gave more weight to Google’s case than those any previous witness.

Schwartz defiantly confirmed to Google counsel, Robert Van Nest that whilst he was at Sun, they fostered a culture of openess towards Java APIs and encouraged others to use them. Sun was seeking wider distribution and adoption and this was the best way of attaining this. Forging partnerships with Silicon Valley giants, companies like Oracle, SAP, Sybase was in Schwartz’s words, a way to give them something that was ‘bigger than the monopoly itself’.

“You had to if you wanted to see that language broadly accepted,” Schwartz explained. “Those APIs enabled people to write full, complete applications that leverage all the technology underlying the platform.”

Coming onto the real meat of the trial, the freeness of the 37 Java APIs to Android engineers, Schwartz was adamant that Sun had never sold the APIs separately from the Java language, nor were they solely propretiary to Sun.

When questioned about the negotiations with Google, Schwartz explained that Sun was looking primarily for two things – firstly revenue ‘so they could call it a ‘Java phone,’ and a wider compatibility and support for the Java community. But Schwartz said that ‘like almost all companies, Google wants to control their destiny’ and it wasn’t possible to strike a deal.

Later, during cross-examination Oracle counsel, Michael Jacobs questioned Schwartz on Google’s use of the 37 Java APIs that are at the centre of this trial and their relation to Apache Harmony. Schwartz said that the Apache Foundation is within their rights to use the APIs as long as they don’t call it Java.

He said:

The Apache Foundation is totally free to ship their code into the market place.

The only thing they can’t do is call their product Java. We weren’t going to give them a hall pass.

Oracle, perhaps realising they were fighting a losing battle with Schwartz, resorted to sullying his testimony by referring to his exit at Sun repeatedly. Jacobs and Schwartz engaged in a heated discussion over the Rubin emails. Schwartz inferred that Rubin was making a big deal over nothing within those emails, but Jacobs pushed further with the point. Eventually Schwartz said ‘I’m there to define our business strategy — not to write our contracts.’

Later on, Oracle broke protocol slightly by calling up another former Sun CEO, Scott McNealy in the midst of Google presenting its case. Given what McNealy had to say, you can see why they wanted to get him in sharpish, before the copyright portion of the trial was over. 

McNealy’s view directly opposed that of Schwartz, confirming to Oracle’s attorney David Boies that Java was “extremely valuable” to Sun and that it involved “lots of intellectual property.”

Upon further probing, McNealy discounted Schwartz’s statement hours earlier that Sun’s policy to implement an incompatible version of Java (although not called Java) was a ‘strategy that we pursued nor allowed in the marketplace.’ He even went further to say it would have a ‘negative’ effect on Sun, and they always wanted to keep it compatible. McNealy said it was indeed Sun’s practice to let other companies use Java, but only with a commercial licence to keep compatibility. 

Google didn’t shy away from questionable cross-examination either with Van Nest asking if McNealy was a personal friend of Larry Ellison, perhaps trying to paint the witness as an Oracle card-carrier. McNealy taken aback confirmed this was true. Van Nest asked if Ellison was a ‘national economic hero’ as well. Why this is relevant to the case, we don’t know. McNealy’s response drew court laughter at least saying ‘Anyone who pays that many taxes is a national economic hero.’

With the former Sun head honchos at loggerheads, it will now fall to the jury to decide what Sun’s intentions were with Android. It also can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that as we come closer to copyright crunch-time with closing statements and a verdict expected, the line of questioning and courtroom tactics has been noticeably more severe.

The copyright case is almost nearing its conclusion.

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