from the real-companies-innovate,-not-litigate dept
Over the past few years, Sun has been one of the more outspoken companies against abusing the patent system, with former CEO Jonathan Schwartz explaining that real companies innovate, not litigate. However, Sun and its patents are now owned by Oracle, and apparently Larry Ellison feels otherwise. Oracle is now suing Google for patent infringement, using a bunch of patents that Sun owns around Java, claiming that Google's Android implementation of Java is done without a license. This is a bit surprising, really, as big Silicon Valley tech companies don't often get into patent battles with each other -- and, historically, when they do launch such patent attacks, it's usually a sign of something bigger being wrong with the company. Anyway, if you're interested, the patents in question are 6,125,447, 6,192,476, 5,966,702, 7,426,720, RE38,104, 6,910,205 and 6,061,520. And here's the filing:
Interesting to see super lawyer David Boies on this one. His career really has gone downhill, hasn't it? From once leading the government's antitrust case against Microsoft to representing SCO's ridiculous lawsuits and now being involved in yet another silly patent fight?
Either way it will be interesting to see Google's response. Unlike many big tech companies, Google hasn't warehoused patents at quite the same rate. The company certainly does regularly apply for and get patents, but if you watch the numbers, they're much lower than other tech companies, and I can't recall Google ever making a patent claim against another company. So it'll be interesting if Google responds with the standard response to a patent lawsuit between two big tech companies: which is to countersue over other patents, effectively launching the nuclear counterstrike. My guess is that the more likely response is that Google will eventually just pay off Oracle to make this lawsuit go away.
The release of Apple iPhone SDK got a ton of attention on the blogosphere. Personally, I found the announcement to be a huge disappointment, because the rules for getting applications on the iPhone are chock full of restrictions. TechCrunch notes some of the major ones: No VoIP over the cell network, no exchanging data between applications, no multi-tasking (third-party apps quit when you switch out of them). But the more serious problem isn't strictly technical, but contractual: the only way to get third-party applications onto the iPhone is through Apple's "App Store." And Apple plans to carefully monitor the apps available through the store. Apparently "porn, privacy-breaching tools, bandwidth-hogging apps, and anything illegal" are examples of what will be off-limits, but that's not an exhaustive list.
The problem here goes beyond the mere possibility that Apple might block apps that some users would find useful. The more serious problem is the effect that the approval process will have on developers. Given how vague the rules are (what counts as bandwidth-hogging?) and that Apple is free to change them at any time anyway, it's going to be risky for a developer to start developing an iPhone app that Apple might reject. TechCrunch wonders, for example, if Apple would allow an app to download songs from Amazon's MP3 store. To avoid a nasty surprise at the end of the development process, any serious developer will want to talk to Apple ahead of time, but negotiating the feature set ahead of time could delay the product by months.
Perhaps most importantly, these barriers are going to be a serious disincentive to casual tinkering. Some of the greatest applications on the Internet -- including email and the Web -- were developed by one or two guys without the support of a large organization behind them. They were able to deploy their applications because the Internet (and the ARPANET in the case of email) didn't have any kind of approval process. You could just install your application and start using it. On an open iPhone platform, the killer mobile app might have been developed the same way. But if a developer has to spend a lot of time arguing with Apple's iPhone bureaucracy, they're likely to give up and develop the app for an open platform like Google's Android instead.
Advanced users of the Apple iPhone were delighted earlier this year, when a hack was released that allowed them to install native third party applications on the phone. Then, much to these users ire, Apple quickly responded with a software update, which broke any third party applications that were installed on their phone. By shutting off the iPhone to third party applications, Apple not only pissed off its most loyal users, but also created an opportunity for its competitors that did allow third party applications. Well, that edge didn't stick around for long, since Steve Jobs has just announced that the iPhone will be open to native third party applications through an SDK starting in February. Strangely, this is a similar path that Danger took when they released their Hiptop back in 2003. Danger also started with a walled garden upon its initial launch, and then, six months after launch, finally released an SDK. Apple's SDK will be released seven months after its launch, so it looks like almost they're on the same exact schedule. It is thought that Danger's delay in releasing its SDK killed much of the excitement of third party developers. Hopefully for Apple, however, its cadres of fanboys should be sufficient to get the ball rolling on the development of third party applications for the iPhone.