Oracle Corp. dropped a major legal bombshell on Google Inc. late Thursday, kicking off what could be an epic clash of Silicon Valley titans.
"This is a case of Goliath versus Goliath," IDC analyst Al Hilwa said.
Oracle, the software giant, filed a patent and copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, the Internet behemoth, over the Android software that uses technology Oracle bought when it acquired Sun Microsystems Inc. in January. Google's Android software is used in mobile phones produced by Motorola Inc., Taiwan's HTC Corp. and others.
"In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property," Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle said in a statement. "This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement."
For its part, a spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said the company was "disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit."
The open-source Java community "goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the Web a better place," Google said.
Oracle's surprise bid to control use of the software has sparked an uproar in Silicon Valley. The lawsuit seeks unspecific damages and an injunction, which could throw a major monkey wrench into developing applications using Android software.
Sun's Java lets developers write software that works on a variety of computers and systems and runs on countless mobile devices. Sun held thousands of patents but backed open-source sharing. It cut licensing deals for Java, but also offered free versions. It was often criticized for not making enough money from Java.
Oracle's maverick Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison called Java "the single most important software asset we have ever acquired."
And Android mobile phones are emerging as a very valuable business line for Google. To date, there are 60 Android devices built by 21 handset makers. Android will be in almost one-fifth of all smart phones by 2012, research firm ISuppli Corp. projects. That has set off furious competition and a flurry of patent-infringement complaints, including claims from Microsoft Corp., which has said that Android may infringe on its patents.
Of all the executives in Silicon Valley, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is more aware than most of the value of Java. He worked at Sun and led its Java development efforts before joining Google in 2001.
Java is essential to Android, analysts said. "This will have an effect on Android," Hilwa said.
Android software is used by handset makers and carriers as well as legions of software developers. "All of these people are going to be concerned whether they are in compliance or if they are infringing on patents," Hilwa said. "There is all of the sudden a cloud of uncertainty over Android that could impact the adoption of Android down the road depending on how these things play out."