Oracle is suing Google for $2.6 billion over Java patents it claims Android infringes upon, the latest development in the convoluted world of software litigation.
The database software company, which acquired Java when it purchased Sun Microsystems, the patents’ creator, was reportedly suing Google for up to $6.1 billion, but new legal documents confirmed the lowered number, estimated by a consultant for Oracle named Iain Cockburn.
“Google falsely claims that Prof. Cockburn concludes that Oracle is owed anywhere from $1.4 to $6.1 billion in damages,” Oracle said in a court filing. “He does not. His opinion is that the total damages that should be awarded to Oracle is $2.6 billion.”
Google previously criticized Cockburn’s estimates, claiming the lower bound of $1.4 billion was still 20 times what Sun made yearly from all its mobile Java licensing agreements. Oracle said Google turned down reasonable terms for licensing the patents. Google, meanwhile, insists the patents are invalid.
The lawsuit is one battle in a whole war of the mobile industry. Virtually every major player is locked in courtroom battles with another — many fighting on multiple fronts. Software patents, which tend to be broad and subject to multiple interpretations, make for useful tools to bludgeon competitors.
Android appears to be a favorite target. Microsoft, which believes Google’s mobile platform infringes on its own patents, sued handset makers using the mobile operating system in their products, including Motorola, which staged a comeback on Android handsets, and Barnes & Noble for its Nook Color e-reader.
HTC chose to settle with Microsoft rather than go to court, and now pays licensing fees on every Android handset it sells. Regardless of a suit’s validity, defending against courtroom fights is so costly, for many companies, settling is actually cheaper and less disruptive. That makes the suits a powerful weapon and threat.
For Microsoft, the tactic may have strategic benefits, harrying competitors and making a rival platform, Android, less attractive to manufacturers.
But the patent system was created to protect innovation, not squeeze competitors. The House recently passed a bill designed to overhaul the patent process with an aim to streamlining applications and making it more difficult for so-called “patent trolls” to extort money from companies using over-broad patents.
However, the new patent legislation has raised questions of its own, including accusations that it unfairly discriminates against smaller, independent investors to the advantage of large corporations.