updated 02:55 pm EDT, Wed September 7, 2011
Google testimony may show Java copied directly
Newly public elements from Oracle's lawsuit against Google have uncovered testimony that Google may have lifted some code from Sun's Java implementation. Former Sun engineer and Google's Chief Java Architect Joshua Bloch said it was "likely" based on code structure that he had accessed Sun code and used it to make a system sort borrowed from the Python language, TimSort. He downplayed it as only reproducing a "little function" and said it was important that it behave in the same way, according to a discovery by Florian Mueller.
While it's true the individual code brought through in testimony wasn't significant, the court appearance also challenged Google's argument that it wasn't necessarily aware of where code was coming from. Code was brought in as long as there was a contribution to the project and immediate supervisors didn't object.
"My job duties are moderately flexible, and if I see something that, you know, I think could be beneficial to Google and to the broader Java ecosystem, and my manager doesn't object, I do it," the engineer said.
Bloch also interpreted a programming interface as a creative act and suspected that Sun, which had been bought by Oracle in 2010, "would probably be upset, and with good reason" if its code had been published without permission for profit. Sun openly embraced Android for its use of Java when new, something Oracle has been keen to hide, but its control over permission went away with the Oracle buyout.
A separate portion also showed 2007 e-mail between Google mobile VP Andy Rubin and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on the subject of a Sun deal. Rubin, the key architect behind Android, wanted Sun to open-source Java. Sun was welcoming but wanted a Red Hat Linux-style distribution system. As that deal never materialized due to Google's desire to keep its alterations to itself, Google was aware it might have needed to pay a $100 million per year license to get access to the code.
Google e-mail from August that year, published in the exposed data, revealed that Sun's eventual decision to open-source Java under a GPL (GNU Public License) was a step to keep companies like Google from using the code for commercial purposes without negotiating the license needed to close off some of the code. Google could use the code without paying but, to properly honor the open-source license, would have had to fully redistribute code and not deliberately withhold releases and consider certain parts of the code off-limits.
The mentions don't necessarily point to direct use of code infringing on Oracle's patents but may hurt Google's case by showing that its staff were willing to take Sun's code and that it was aware of costs it wasn't prepared to pay. Its testimony may give it a good reason to support potentially forced settlement talks to avoid paying the multi-billion dollar payments Oracle wants.