Oracle’s Java API Suit Against Google – Five Years Later

Five years ago, in August 2010, I asked the question Have We Reached The Software Patent Tipping Point?

Oracle sued Google over a series of Java-related patents they got when they acquired Sun.

My favorite line from the whole thing was James Gosling’s (who was one of the authors of one of the original patents and a key creator of Java) when he wrote The shit finally hits the fan.

“The shit finally hits the fan…. Thursday August 12, 2010
Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer’s eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun’s genetic code. Alas…. 

I hope to avoid getting dragged into the fray: they only picked one of my patents (RE38,104) to sue over.”

Oracle also got copyrights to the Java APIs. Remember, Java was theoretically Open Source, but like so many things in our world when lawyers get involved “it’s complicated.” Stack Exchange regularly has commentary about this. See Is Java free/open source or not? and Is java an open source programming language?

It’s not as messy as the Greek debt crisis but directionally similar. And it’s far from over. I was hoping the Supreme Court would take this on and help put an important issue around copyright to bed. But the Supremes passed, deferring to the need for a lower court to rule on the appeal.

“The justices, without comment, declined to disturb a May 2014 appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor that reinvigorated the company’s case against Google. The appeals court, overruling a trial judge, said 37 packages of prewritten Java programs, known as application programming interfaces, were entitled to copyright protection.

Oracle has sought more than $1 billion in damages. A jury originally held that Google infringed the Oracle copyrights, but it deadlocked on Google’s defense that its copying amounted to fair use. That issue will have to be retried in a lower court.”

Patents and copyrights are different. And the courts know that. Unfortunately, it’s getting even more tangled up, especially around the critical concept of fair use. This continues to be a very important case, especially as interoperability between software has become a fundamental tenant of how software systems function, and I’m glad Google is fighting it.

At least we got the right to marry anyone we want from the Supremes.

Weekend Video Fun From Big Omaha

This weekend you can catch up on Halt and Catch Fire, Mr. Robot, or the talk I gave at Big Omaha in May.

I tell stories about my favorite investment (Harmonix), an investment we clearly missed and why (Twitter), and my worst and most heartbreaking investment (Interliant), along with lawsuits and eating babies.

I then go on a riff on Startup Communities and Fundraising, where the phrase “Any rich people around here?” popped out and got some applause.

I covered the inevitable question about dragicorns and big financings, went on my culture – competence rant, and then answered whether entrepreneurs are born or made.

I had fun at Big Omaha. While I think Halt and Catch Fire and Mr. Robot are way more interesting than me, this was a pretty good interview.

How We Think About Values Versus Deeply Held Beliefs

Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Return Path, has an outstanding post up this morning titled The Difference Between Culture and ValuesGo read it, I’ll be here when you get back.

If you liked that, go get a copy of Matt’s book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your BusinessIt’s one of the books on my list of books all CEOs should read.

Matt distinguishes between culture and values. His punch line, which he reveals early, is:

Values guide decision-making and a sense of what’s important and what’s right. Culture is the collection of business practices, processes, and interactions that make up the work environment.

At Foundry Group, we have a slight modification to how we think of values. Supporting our values are a set of “deeply held beliefs.”  These deeply held beliefs tangibly define our values and give us a frame of reference to operate.

For example, one of our deeply held beliefs is that “we will never grow.” Each of our funds is $225 million, we have four partners and no other investment staff, and we work out of the same office we’ve worked out of since we started in 2007. We’ve had opportunities to raise much larger funds and have considered it in the past given a variety of factors. But, we kept coming back to this deeply held belief and realized that raising a larger fund would violate our brand promise of only raising $225 million funds.

Our deeply held beliefs are fundamental to our values, although we are comfortable challenging them regularly to make sure they are deeply held, and make modifications on occasion when we learn new things but only after a lot of thought and discussion, among ourselves and with several of our very close limited partners.

For example, when we started we said “we’ll make around 10 new investments a year.” This came from a belief around the importance of time diversity of investing – we have a three year time horizon for making the 30 or so initial investments in the companies we want in each fund.

Until 2013, we made between 8 and 14 a year, which is close enough to 10 (although the year we did 14 was a year where we all said “too much – slow down.”) But at the end of 2013, when the JOBS Act became official and AngelList created Syndicates, we decided to understand the phenomenon better by participating in it. So, rather than sit on the sidelines, observe, and prognosticate about angel / seed investing, we created the FG Angels Syndicate on AngelList and have done around 60 seed investments in the last 18 months.

Another example of a re-evaluation of a deeply held belief was our decision to create our Foundry Group Select Fund. Until we created this fund, we limited the amount that we could invest in a company to $15 million. We would occasionally go a little higher (the most we have invested in a company from one of our funds, other than Select, is $17 million) but, especially with successful companies, we were limited to what we could do in the later rounds. During a particularly challenging financing for Fitbit, which we believed deeply in at the time as an unambiguously successful company, we were frustrated that we couldn’t write a big check in the financing. We talked to our LPs about what we were thinking, quickly raised a late stage fund to invest on in our later rounds for our portfolio companies, and made our first investment from that fund in the last round Fitbit did in 2013. With Select, we are no longer limited to investing $15 million per company.

Matt states in his post:

“A company’s values should never really change. They are the bedrock underneath the surface that will be there 10 or 100 years from now. They are the uncompromising core principles that the company is willing to live and die by, the rules of the game.”

I strongly agree with this, although I have one nuance. It’s hard to be absolutely correct at the beginning of the journey. So, instead of being dogmatic about values you created when you were three founders in a cafe somewhere, make sure you have one layer of abstraction about how you implement them, that can be tuned over time. For us, these are our deeply held beliefs, which support our values, but can be tuned as we learn new things. But, because they are deeply held, they can only be slightly modified, rather than torn up and replaced.

Why Isn’t PGP Built Into Gmail?

An increasing number of companies that I work with are using PGP to encrypt certain email. While they are comfortable sending a lot of email unencrypted, there are periodic threads that different people want to have encrypted for a variety of reasons, some rational and some not.

Each company is dealing with this a different way. Suddenly I find myself managing a bunch of public keys in different PGP tools on different computers. I started by going with the recommendation of each company and predictably found myself managing multiple solutions that sort of worked some of the time.

Last night I was on a hangout with one of the CEOs trying to troubleshoot the problem we were having with the implementation his company was using. After 15 minutes of fighting with a Chrome plugin, we gave up. Of course, when I went to a different computer, it worked just fine.

This seems like such a simple thing for Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft) to build into their email clients, especially the browser based ones. Keep the keys locally (or even in Dropbox or iCloud). Encrypt and decrypt from within the browser. Only transmit encrypted email. Only display the decrypted email.

Why hasn’t this been done yet? Am I missing something obvious?

Sleeping With My Dad

I love to sleep. I’m at La Guardia heading to Aspen for the weekend. I got up at 4am to make my flight and I feel like the guy on the left.

Brad and Stan sleeping at airport 1990

The guy on the right is my dad. I don’t know when or where this picture was taken, but my mom sent it to me a few months ago. One of my super powers is to be able to fall asleep anywhere I am almost instantly. This is especially true on airplanes, where the pre-flight ambiance puts me immediately to sleep.

I clearly got this from my dad, who is also a champion sleeper. Whenever we are together, we eat chocolate ice cream at least once a day. And we take a 90 minute afternoon nap, which I have always felt was once of the most delightful experiences a human can have.