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And the Lawsuits are Flying -- Again

Most of the time, reporting on doing ons in the Valley of Silicon is an inspiring gig filled with world-changing technological innovations and amazing success stories -- 26-year-old-billionaires, for example, making it to the cover of Time magazine. And sometimes it's like covering a bunch of fifth graders playing King if the Hill.

It's getting hard to keep up with who's suing whom around her. This week, it's Swiss mobile software maker Myriad Group suing Oracle for allegedly charging excessive licensing fees for Java.

Bloomberg.com reported on Monday that the Swiss company filed the suit on Dec. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, asking Oracle America for "at least" $120 million in restitution.

Myriad charges that Big O is failing to license its Java tech fairly to its industry partners -- Myriad, in particular -- and alleges that Oracle made them pay on "unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory royalty-based terms."

There's kind of a David-and-Goliath vibe to this dustup. Myriad, which uses a lot of Java in its mobile applications, reported about $105.3 million in revenue last year, while Oracle reported $26.8 billion in sales last fiscal year.

But Florian Mueller, the founder and former director of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign, who laid out the situation well in his Dec. 14 FOSS Patents blog, looked over the compaint and concluded that there is "clearly connected to the ongoing patent litigation between Oracle and Google and the wider conflict concerning Oracle's Java licensing policies in connection with mobile platforms."

"What we are seeing here," Mueller wrote, "is a phalanx formed against Oracle by Google, Apache and Myriad." The Myriad Group , it seems, is being advised by the law firm that is defending Google against Oracle.

It has also been reported that Scott Weingaertner, one of the attorneys representing Myriad in the lawsuit, is also representing Google in the patent infringement suit filed by Oracle against the search engine giant in August. Oracle alleges that Google infringed on seven Java Platform patents in its Android mobile operating system.

Of course, Oracle isn't the kind of company to stand there and get bitch-slapped. On the same day Myriad filed its suit, Oracle filed a complaint against Myriad in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the Swiss company failed to comply with its royalty obligations and that it is making unauthorized use of the Java trademark and logo.

I chatted with a couple of local industry watchers about the dueling lawsuits. Forrester analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond pointed out that Myriad is part of the Android community and a member of the Open Handset Alliance.

"I'm not surprised to see Oracle squeezing its Java ME licensees to the point where they cry uncle," Hammond told me in an e-mail. "I'm sure they will look to extract as much revenue as possible to recoup their investments in the acquisition."

Forrester analyst John R. Rymer noted that Myriad makes a version of Dalvik, the VM in the Android OS. The company recently unveiled Dalvik Turbo, a JVM designed to beat the execution speed of Google's version. Dalvik does not comply with the mainstream JVM.

"The lawsuit in essence accuses Google of hiring former Sun engineers and copying patented Sun technologies to build their own version of the technology without paying Oracle license fees," Rymer told me in an earlier interview. "I don't think the paying of license fees is under dispute; Google doesn't pay Oracle Java licensing fees. At issue is whether or not engineers working at Google and on Dalvik [the Android VM] could implement their own versions of class loaders and other critical Java IP without having to pay Oracle for the privilege."

Hammond and Rymer are working on an in-depth analysis of recent events. I'll give you a heads up when it's published. Meanwhile, check out Mueller's blog; it's one of the best summaries of the situation, and he's keeping it updated.

Posted by John K. Waters on December 17, 2010