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15 December 2010, 12:48

New front opened in legal dispute over Java licensing

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The Swiss Myriad Group and Oracle are each suing each other. Myriad is accusing Oracle of charging unreasonable licensing fees for HotSpot Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Oracle in turn alleges that the mobile software specialist has made unauthorised use of Java trademarks. It's also accusing Myriad of failing to adhere to licensing requirements.

Myriad is demanding at least $120 million in damages – a sum made up of $20 million the company has paid in licensing fees since 2004 and $100 million the company's customers are alleged to have overpaid.

The suit against Oracle America was filed at the U.S. District Court in Delaware, while the suit against Myriad at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Oracle America is the new name for Sun Microsystems, which Oracle officially took over earlier this year. The takeover made Oracle the lead company for the Java programming language. Myriad's complaint accuses Oracle of breaching competition rules in the form of the U.S.'s Lanham Act and of breaching California's Business & Professions Code.

Myriad points to Sun's previous consent to the Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA) under which Java was to be licensed under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. They allege, however, that Oracle and before that Sun, have never offered FRAND terms. The allegation parallels that of the Apache Software Foundation, which claims that Oracle failed to provide Technology Compatibility Kits (TCKs) for Java under FRAND terms. This allegation recently resulted in Apache withdrawing from the Java Community Process (JCP).

NoSoftwarePatents founder Florian Müller speculates that Google may also have a finger in the Swiss company's legal attack pie. Google is also currently involved in a legal dispute with Oracle. Oracle has accused Google of infringing its patents in the Dalvik Virtual Machine used in the Android mobile operating system, which has been developed by Google in conjunction with the Open Handset Alliance – of which Myriad is a founding member. Myriad is also using the same law firm as Google.

Myriad describes itself as "Europe's largest mobile software company" which has "shipped over 3.7 billion applications on over 2.2 billion phones." The company's products include a Java ME (Java Micro Edition) platform, a Dalvik alternative and a MIDlet converter for Android.

In its legal filing, Myriad states that it has never used HotSpot code, while in its filing, Oracle claims that at least one of the predecessor companies to Myriad (Esmertec) downloaded Sun source code and used it in its products from 2002 onwards. The Oracle filing says that last year the Swiss company announced that under its interpretation of the wording of the JSPA, implementations compatible with a specification could be licensed royalty-free. Oracle states that it responded by withdrawing access to the TCKs, in response to which Myriad refused to pay for further licenses. Oracle's suit states that, by the time the contract expired on 30th July 2010, Myriad owed it $3.5 million.

Myriad in turn notes that Oracle / Sun representatives told Myriad customers that the Swiss company was not authorised to sell Java products. It also says that Sun was able to undercut Myriad, and that Myriad could not compete with Sun on price due to the "exorbitant royalties" it was required to pay. The Myriad suit states that this is one reason why it lost customers including Sharp, Pioneer, Vividlogic and Mitsubishi.


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