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Java Patents: "Software and Patents Don't Belong Together"

Java Patents: "Software and Patents Don't Belong Together"

Related Links:
  • Kodak Wins vs Sun: Java Infringes Kodak Patents
  • "Happy First Birthday, Groklaw!" Say Linux & GPL Lovers Everywhere
  • Linux Viewpoint: Sun Shows Its True Colors, Says Groklaw's "PJ"

    It's not often, recently, that the editor of, Pamela Jones - a.k.a. "PJ" - has expressed much sympathy for Sun.

    Normally she is at the forefront of those criticizing Sun's management for their settlement with Microsoft, which she argues is nothing more than a pact to fight off the enterprise Linux challenge represented by Red Hat:

    "Sun and Microsoft evidently have figured out from the SCO wars...that attacking the FOSS community is suicide. So they have a new strategy: they will isolate Red Hat from the GNU/Linux herd, and they are now stalking it with the clear intent to destroy it." (, September 28, 2004)

    But this week Jones is singing a different tune, because - compared to what she sees as the "truly disgusting" iniquity of Kodak's patent-infringement suit against Sun Microsystems - the Sun-Microsoft pact dwindles in significance.

    Referring to Friday's decision in Kodak's favor by the federal jury in Rochester, NY, Jones aserts that "Kodak won, thanks to a patent system spinning out of control, one that is destroying creativity and innovation in the software industry."

    "Sun, for all its faults," PJ writes, "developed Java. Sun is a tech company that cares about excellence, and they have put their heart and soul into developing Java. A community formed around Java too, and many, many individuals also contributed to its development."

    Contrast this, she implies, to the low-down tactics of the Eastman Kodak Co.

    "Kodak now says it will seek, in the damages part of the trial, $1.06 billion in past royalties, which they calculate represents *half* of Sun's operating profit from the sales of computer servers and storage equipment between January 1998 and June 2001. Why do they feel that is fair? Because Java provides 'the engine for such computer equipment.' Puh-lease. This is their workaround. You can download Java free, so I gather they wish to grab their royalties loot from Sun's hardware sales instead. I would expect them to also try to work out some kind of ongoing royalty deal as well, until the patent runs out. What kind of an upside-down, irrational Alice-in-Wonderland world do we live in, where such a result is possible?" (, October 3, 2004)

    The current patents laws "reward the Kodaks of the world," Jones continues, "and penalizes Sun for years and years of expense and sweat and toil and creativity by robbing them of their due reward, not to mention removing any motive to ever do such innovative things again as long as they live."

    Strong language indeed.

    Oddly, and by a strange coincidence, Sun's own president and COO, Jonathan Schwartz, blogged on Friday - the very same day the federal jury handed down its decision that the Java programming language infringes on patents held by Eastman Kodak - that, on the contrary, software and patents were not just strange bedfellows, but necessary room-mates.

    Friday's entry, entitled "I believe in IP," began in resounding Schwartzian style:

    "I believe in intellectual property. In my view, it's the foundation of world economies, and certainly the foundation upon which Sun Microsystems was built. Copyright, trademark, patent - I believe in them all. I also believe in innovation and competition - and that these beliefs are not mutually exclusive."

    "If you look at Sun's business," Schwartz continued, "all we really are, like most of our peers in the technology industry (and the media and entertainment industries with which we're converging), is an intellectual property fountain. Pour money in the top, some of the world's most talented people go to work, intellectual property falls out the other end. We happen to turn our IP into storage and servers and software and services - but realistically, that's what our manufacturing and service partners do for us. All Sun ultimately does is create ideas, design systems and engage communities."

    So what, more specifically, is his stance on patents? Here is what Schwartz wrote:

    "A few weeks ago, the CEO of one of the more popular open source companies called and asked me to support their stance on the invalidation of software patents. I listened closely, I respect the guy and his company. But this was the same CEO who forbade Sun from shipping his open source technology with Solaris based on a curious interpretation of the GNU Public License. And based on rabid enforcement of copyright. He was looking for broadscale support for invalidation of software patents - not spurious patents, not the kind that are acquired for litigation, but the whole concept of software patents.

    And so I asked - 'I'm not sure why you're asking my support to invalidate what Sun's stockholders have invested tens of billions of dollars to create, when you'd cringe if I told you to give away your largest asset, your copyright and brand.' His answer, 'You just don't understand.' He was right, I didn't and don't. And we're going to agree to disagree.'"

    What goes for Sun presumably goes for Eastman Kodak, which purchased the disputed patents from Wang Laboratories in 1997 when it bought Wang's imaging software business for $260 million and is now looking for restitution in the damages part of the trial to the tune of $1.06 billion in past royalties, which Kodak's lawyers calculate represents half of Sun's operating profit from the sales of computer servers and storage equipment between January 1998 and June 2001. So are we to assume that Sun won't be protesting the federal jury decision?

    We are not. Sun's lawyers will on the contrary, be mounting "a vigorous defense" in the damages phase of the trial, they say. 

    Their argument to date has been that Java does not violate the Kodak patents, and that - even if it does - they are invalid.

    This may be difficult to reconcile with Schwartz's spirited blog. "I continue to believe in the protection of ideas conveyed by patents," he writes. "From drug discovery to academic work, the protection of IP is part and parcel of what incents inventors to invent, and investors to invest."

    As they say: in this life, timing is everything.

    Related Links:
  • Kodak Wins vs Sun: Java Infringes Kodak Patents
  • "Happy First Birthday, Groklaw!" Say Linux & GPL Lovers Everywhere
  • Linux Viewpoint: Sun Shows Its True Colors, Says Groklaw's "PJ"
  • More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    OS Solaris? 11/01/04 06:42:31 AM EST

    Talking of patents, hasn't The SCO Group Inc. consistently has said Sun does not have the rights under its contracts to open-source Solaris. So, how does Sun propose to open-source Solaris 10?

    Dat Guy 10/05/04 09:04:10 PM EDT

    PS: I want 15 cents from anyone that reads my last comment out loud. Seriously, I'll sue your *** if you don't send me money now!

    Dat Guy 10/05/04 08:59:57 PM EDT

    I just got a patent on the audibale frequency pattern produced by linear occiliscopic filters using cross parabolic scopular programming algorithms, created when someone utters the word "Kodak".

    I am now suing Kodak for 15 cents for every time they answer their phone. They claim my use of the patent is an underhanded abuse and money grab! They will pay for my stupidity!!

    me_mybusiness 10/05/04 01:31:04 PM EDT

    Datastalker has hit the nail in the head.

    In North America (America and Canada), the way to pursue the American\Canadian dream used to be to build something or provide a service, work hard and do it better than the other guy. The quality of the product or service one provided would determine whether one succeed.

    At that time, people who wanted to "get in on the action" would invest in your endeavour. For a small investment, they could share in the profits. It was a passive thing - stockholders were along for the ride, they didn't drive the bus.

    Enter accountants whose only concerns are "profit centers", "cost centers", and the bottom line.

    Now companies no longer make their money providing products or sevices, they make it by selling stock, and the driving force is not innovation or quality, but "Maximizing Stockholder Value", which seems to be accomplished by cutting costs, producing cheaply, and forcing stock price higher by any means possible, including frivolous lawsuits, patent grabbing, outright deception, etc.

    Maybe it's time someone in this part of the world started a company where the quality of its products and\or services were the focus, not whether you can sell your stock for more, whether you can manipulate the courts to stifle competition, or whether you can save a few bucks by sending the work to Bangalore...

    JavaMan 10/05/04 09:06:00 AM EDT

    I'm an advocate for open source and the sharing of ideas that make this world a better place to both live and work. I truly believe that two people can have the same idea and formulate the same type of solution. The question then becomes "Whose idea was it in the first place?" In our world it would seem to be the person who makes it to the patent office first.

    Kodak "happened" to acquire these patents from Wang. Bottom line, the idea and the solution behind them weren't theirs to begin with. Kodak stands to reap fruit from trees they didn't plant.

    We all need to grow up a little a share like good boys and girls. If money is the only thing that drives our creativity (or pursuit of someone elses patents) then, as a society, we have much deeper issues.

    moojin 10/05/04 08:49:34 AM EDT

    Isn't "one program calling another program for help" the whole idea behind object oriented programming? And even before object oriented programming was defined, one program calling another program can be found in almost any operating system or complex application.

    thewiz 10/05/04 08:16:53 AM EDT

    Unfortunately, IMO it will take some software companies being litigated out of existence before the patent laws change. Like healthcare in America, changes to law are ALWAYS a reaction to something being really out of whack.

    Think about how long it has taken for Americans to get a clue about how bad things like McDonalds food are for your health. Our healthcare system reacts to things, like people having a heart attack, instead of the person taking preventative measures (exercise, diet) before the heart attack happens.

    It's going to take several major software companies having legal "heart attacks" because of software patents before the rest of the industry gets a clue and quits dining at the trough of patents and IP.

    madstork2000 10/05/04 08:12:05 AM EDT

    Kodak is yet another company that has been bleeding badly, and thus turns to litigation to survive. Hopefully soon a judge and the judges above them will get a clue and realize software patents are ridiculous, and should not be allowed to survive.

    tabdelgawad 10/05/04 07:38:43 AM EDT

    I don't see how patents have fostered software innovation in the US; copyrights seem to be sufficient protection for that. On the other hand, where is the *evidence* that patents have choked-off software innovation? What developer did not pursue an idea for fear of a patent-infringement lawsuit?

    If we're going to argue against patents, then let's see the evidence that they actually choked-off innovation.

    LordK2002 10/05/04 07:36:20 AM EDT

    Given that this lawsuit is a threat to Sun, Microsoft and IBM, anybody want to take bets on how long Kodak will prevail?

    bartman 10/05/04 07:26:23 AM EDT

    If Kodak owns a patent which describes a way for a piece of software to "ask for help" from another application, then aren't technologies like RPC and CORBA at risk?

    datastalker 10/05/04 07:04:12 AM EDT

    It seems that today, companies don't produce products, they produce lawsuits, and that's how they get their money. How long can this continue?

    Furthermore, since $1.06B is about 1/3 of Sun's cash on hand, what will that mean for Sun? It's 7% of their total value, so this can't be good for them.

    In the end, it's only the lawyers who win.

    rollingcalf 10/05/04 07:00:43 AM EDT

    Software is the only thing in the world that can be patented, copyrighted, and be a trade secret at the same time (because source code in usually not revealed). That definitely makes it different, and that sort of multi-level IP protection is excessive.

    eamacnaghten 10/05/04 06:59:31 AM EDT

    This epitomizes the case against software patents. They are too open to abuse. The purpose of patents is to encourage inovation, I do not think this is the case with software ones. The vast majority of software is written by employees of non-software companies for those companies. Software patents are irrelevant there. Copyright performs as good a protection where needed regarding software as ever is required.
    Even if you think patents are a good thing (as I do), there is no room for Software Patents. The only people they benefit are the Lawyer IP-Land-Grabbers. The vast amount of the proffessionals in the industry I know are against them (includiong me).

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