The biggest losers in software patent trials are small tech startups.
by Monica Goyal
Google was once again in the news with another patent dispute, now with Oracle. This time the drama happened in the courtroom, right in the public eye. The question in dispute was whether Google’s Android mobile operating system violated Oracle’s Java patents and copyright. There was a lot on the line for both sides as Oracle sought $1 billion in damages.
In the end, both companies are losers. But in reality innovative small tech startups are the real biggest losers in the current environment of software patent trial.
One issue canvassed by Oracle was that Google’s use of the Java API was intentional and not by accident. This argument came to fruition because of an email sent by Tim Lindholm attempting to convince Andy Rubin, Android co-founder, that there are no technical alternatives to Java and that a licensing agreement was the best solution.
The Wall Street Journal wrote an article, “Who is Tim Lindholm? Google CEO is Wondering That Too”. Interestingly, Lindholm was supposedly evangelizing Java within Google: “[He] spent seven years at Sun, according to his profile, and appears to be intimately familiar with Java, a technology Sun started developing in the 1990s. He has co-authored two different editions of a how-to book for programmers called ‘The Java Virtual Machine Specification’.”
If you have worked in the software field then you know that there are always people evangelizing a certain solution, primarily because they are most familiar with it, or, in some cases, because of a vested interest in that technology. However, I am not convinced that Tim Lindholm was suggesting copying Java’s code, but rather just speaking highly of its architecture.
Oracle was not able to convince the jury that Google had infringed their patent. However, Google was found guilty of copyright infringement. Of the 15 million lines of Android code, only a small amount was said to infringe Oracle’s copyright. Likely the amount of damages that will be awarded will be an insignificant amount compared to the $1Billion Oracle was seeking.
In the end, both companies are losers. Both would have incurred huge legal costs in litigating this case, and many people would have suffered emotional stress and anxiety. A WIPO article estimates that the costs of a patent infringement case can range anywhere from $3 million to $6 million.
We can all admit there must be a better use of everyone’s money.
Further, the biggest losers in these software patent trials are hard working innovative companies especially the small tech startups. There are those who understand the deficiencies in the system (patent trolls), and use it as a way to suppress innovation, kill or hinder competition or get undeserved royalties.
The lack of expertise in technology in the law further exacerbates software patent woes. The time for questioning the value of software tech patents is long past; now is the time for reform.