Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Understanding Oracle America v Google: The Oracle Corporation

The Oracle Corporation is best known in the Information Technology world for the Oracle relational database management system, but is probably known most in the business world for its high profile CEO Larry Ellison.

The beginnings of the Oracle Corporation were in 1977 when Larry Ellison, Ed Oates, and Bob Miner formed the consulting group Software Development Laboratories.  Oates had shown Ellison a 1970 paper in which IBM's Ted Codd had proposed the relational database model for data.  IBM was very slow on the drawn in implementing the work of their own researcher, so SDL jumped in to fill the void.

By 1979 the company was successfully marketing their product, and in 1979 changed their name to Oracle Corporation after their flagship product.

By successful marketing and by acquisition of other companies Oracle grew to be the corporation that has the third largest revenue from software, behind only Microsoft and IBM.

Oracle's most significant acquisition in terms of their recent trajectory was in January of this year, when they completed their acquisition of Sun Microsystems.  Sun was well known as a producer of enterprise servers and storage devices.  They were also a powerhouse in Research and Development, had a great deal of trouble monetizing their research, and had been on an acquisition spree of their own before being acquired by Oracle.  I'll write more on Sun and the properties Oracle got with the acquisition  when I cover Oracle America, the name Oracle has given to the subsidiary comprising the former Sun.

Oracle is in some ways an old fashioned software company.  While Oracle has dabbled in open source software and software which is free in the sense of "free beer", it's exhibited little understanding of the culture of the free software movement.  The first evidence of this is the awkward and heavy handed manner in which it handled relations with the Open Solaris community (I've written brief posts on that relationship  here and here).

Why is Oracle suing Google?

There isn't really an easy answer at the moment as to the motivation and timing of this lawsuit.  It has the obvious effect of disrupting, and potentially damaging, future adoption of Java.  So it's likely Oracle has some specific goal in mind beyond a one time settlement.  I can't imagine Oracle deciding to compete with patent trolling firms like Acacia.  In fact in 1994 Oracle went on record opposing software patents in principle (in agreement with a substantial portion of the IT world). 

This early in the game my best candidate for a quick guess is that Oracle is interested in getting a strong foothold in the mobile industry, either by forcing a licensing agreement with Google, or blowing Android out of the water and introducing a competing device.  Oracle did something similar to the latter when they tried to compete with Red Hat Linux a few years back.  That attempt was a complete and utter failure.

As the suit unfolds Oracle's specific strategy will probably become obvious.  But I doubt that it's moral indignation over violation of their IP.  After all, Oracle got its start implementing research that was carried out on IBM's dime.

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