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“Entrap and extort”

August 22, 2010

Like many, when Sun open-sourced the JDK in 2006, I shouted Huzzah, and utterly missed the shell game being played with the patent portfolio backing it.  Let’s review the strategy briefly:

  1. Release an implementation of your patents under GPL2, which has no implicit patent grant
  2. Offer a patent grant only to fully spec-compliant derivative works
  3. Withhold the tools necessary to achieve compliance

Stalling there, as Sun did, this strategy was just messy and incomprehensible.  I can kind of see how it propped up Sun’s implementation and struggling business model; I suppose screwing with high-velocity projects like Apache Harmony was merely an effective equalizer.  But when Oracle came along, they knew how to add their special sauce to turn this into a money-maker.

Oracle knows:  It’s not profitable to merely entrap someone.  To profit, you must also extort them.

Oracle loves to use this entrap and extort strategy with NGOs.  They donate “millions of dollars worth” of software to worthy organizations — taking tax write-offs on those donations, of course — and then in due time, Oracle comes knocking to claim its six-figure annual maintenance payments on its gifts.  Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience with these situations!  In a couple of cases, the Oracle maintenance demand has been as big as the entire annual software development budget for the affected business unit.  In one case, the software had never even been used.

Microsoft’s legendary embrace and extend strategy is practically angelic compared to entrap and extort.  Microsoft wants to beat its competitors.  Oracle prefers to beat its customers until they’re scared to go to the competitors.

In case you missed it, in the Oracle vs. Google suit, Oracle’s demands include the impound and destruction of all infringing copies. I get this Ray Bradbury image of  jack-booted thugs appearing at my door, and wresting my expensive Android phone from my cold, sweaty, terrorized hands.  Laughing, they throw it into a wood chipper marked “Contraband.” Mercifully, they move on, because they they have to confiscate a phone from just about everybody on my street.

That’s no accident.  I’m supposed to get this image.  I’m supposed to be afraid.  Oracle’s Nazgul lawyers did their best to saturate the whole claim with the Black Breath of fear.

But all that horror could be avoided, if those dirty Google bastards just agree to pay … wouldn’t that be easier?  Can’t we all be friends then?

No.  We cannot.

I see some respectable people now pledging that Oracle will never get another dime of theirs.  While I’m there in spirit, they never have gotten a dime of mine.

But one thing I can do is cease to use Oracle’s trademarks, including the one that describes James Gosling’s language work.  I can move away from products or projects that in any way are tied to Oracle and its acquisitions.  And I can step up my effort to contribute to serious alternatives that allow others to flee Oracle’s extortionate practices.

For one thing, I get to use a lot more Ruby and Go, and that makes me quite happy.  I might even use some more C#. And when I’m using Gosling-speak, I’ll be darn sure to use it on Apache Harmony or Android.  At least until the jack-booted thugs come.

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