IP expert finds Google copied Java code for Android

As in "copied without permission"

An intellectual property expert says his analysis of Android code found 43 instances in which Google copied Java code without permission. If true, the new findings could undermine Google's defense against a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Oracle in 2010.

The alleged copying is found in the latest version of the Android mobile OS: 2.2 (Froyo) and 2.3 (Gingerbread), according to Florian Mueller, a self-described "award-winning intellectual property activist with 25 years of software industry expertise."

But Ars Technica's open source editor, Paul Ryan, says the copying isn't as open-and-shut as Mueller claims. In a blogpost, Paul says that some of the code Mueller identified isn't actually used by Android; and that other code doesn't actually ship with Android. "It definitely doesn't look good for Google to have this stuff in the Android code repository, but it also doesn't represent the direct copying of Sun code into the shipping Android platform," Ryan writes.

Oracle filed its infringement lawsuit in August, claiming that Google's Android operating system infringes on Java copyrights that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. "Google has called the suit baseless, denying infringement," according to the story filed by IDG News Service reporter Nancy Gohring.

In addition to the one allegedly copied Java file cited by Oracle in its complaint, Mueller says he's found six additional files "that show the same pattern of direct copying." On top of that, he says he has found 37 more files that are "marked 'PROPRIETARY/CONFIDENTIAL' by Sun and a copyright notice file that says: 'DO NOT DISTRIBUTE!'"

"Unless Google obtained a license to that code (which is unlikely given the content and tone of those warnings), this constitutes another breach," Mueller wrote in a detailed blogpost.

The stakes in the lawsuit are high. Tech consultant and blogger Daniel Eran Dilger noted in his RoughlyDrafted blogsite that Oracle is not simply seeking damages or royalties from Google. "And yes, Oracle isn’t just after money, it’s after blood," he wrote in an August 2010 analysis, after Oracle filed its suit. "In its complaint, Oracle doesn’t just demand monetary infringement damages, it’s seeking to have any code that is found to infringe upon Oracle’s copyrights 'impounded and destroyed.'

It would be bad enough if Google was forced to pay royalties on an mobile OS it gives away for free. But if Oracle succeeds, the result would be to eviscerate the Android OS and force Google's software engineers back to the drawing board.

But Dilger argues that such a threat might have a different outcome, one that Oracle actually desires above all: drafting Google and other big software companies to unite in a plan to finally scrap the practice of using patents to protect software. He links to Oracle's 1994 testimony at a United States Patent and Trademark Office hearing on software patents: “Oracle Corporation opposes the patentability of software. The Company believes that existing copyright law and available trade secret protections, as opposed to patent law, are better suited to protecting computer software developments."

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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