Can Google Sidestep Oracle Patent Payouts with Mono/C#?

android-monoOracle has sued Google over patent and copyright violations related to Google’s use of Java technologies in Android. Oracle acquired the Java IP as a part of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. The details are somewhat different but this has the same general flavor as when Sun sued Microsoft over its non-conforming Java runtime and J++ language compiler. That lawsuit was based in contracts law because Microsoft did license Java from Sun and violated the terms of the license. In this case, Google has attempted to sidestep the licensing requirements of Java with their Dalvik VM. Once could reasonably argue that the technical basis was similar. Both Microsoft and Google want to achieve significant performance improvement and platform integration over a vanilla JVM at the cost of incompatibility with the Java standard. It’s not entirely clear that Davlik actually achieves superior performance, though. I have to wonder if the stack-based VM concept was incidental to the goal of making an end-run around J2SE runtime licensing requirements.

One intriguing—if a bit self-serving and improbable—proposal has been floated by Miguel de Icaza: Why not just replace Dalik with Mono, the free and open source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET? The Mono runtime is LGPLv2 and the class libraries are MIT licensed. Additionally the .NET Micro edition has been placed entirely under the Microsoft Public License which is a BSD-style license with an explicit patent grant. The Microsoft Community Promise explicitly indemnifies patent claims against anyone wishing to implement C# and the CLI and unlike Sun’s patent grant for Java, embrace-and-extend is OK—you can implement a superset of the C# and CLI features and you are still covered.

Google definitely has the wherewithal to migrate Android from Dalvik to Mono if they want to. They could make it a seamless transition and even migrate the bytecode of existing Dalvik (or Java) apps to IL. They could also provide a tool to migrate projects from Java language to C# as Microsoft did. Other implementations exist.

I think it would be pleasantly symmetrical if history repeated itself. Sun’s lawsuit put the kibosh on Microsoft using Java the way it wanted and essentially gave birth to C#, the CLI and the CLR. It would be ironic if history repeated and Android just adopted Mono as its runtime. The road is much easier to tread this time around because a fully open source implementation already exists and it has already been ported onto Android and bytecode-to-IL and Java-to-C# tools exist and are mature.

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