Huffington Post Article: Google’s Android Contains Legal Landmines for Developers and Device Manufacturers

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

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Article by: Edward J. Naughton

Huffington Post (3/16/11)

Android-powered smartphones have been creating quite a stir among the tech crowd lately — and not necessarily the kind of buzz that Google was hoping for. Oracle sued Google for infringing several patents, and it also accused Google of copying Oracle’s computer code, in violation of its copyrights. When a prominent blogger reported that he had found additional evidence that Google had copied Oracle’s code, a flame war broke out. For example, this Engadget article reporting on the issue generated more than 750 comments, most of which brought more heat than light to the issue.

But there’s more to this story than Google’s “borrowing” of Oracle’s intellectual property. The Android programming code is publicly available, and the increased attention has brought increased scrutiny. Recently, Ray Nimmer, a well-known copyright law professor, observed that there could also be a problem with the way Google used some key Linux software code, called kernel header files, to create a vitally important element of Android. In fact, the way that Google used these files creates a legal quandary for manufacturers of Android devices and many developers writing code and applications for those devices.

What did Google do this time?

Google built Android around Linux, which is an open source operating system licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). The GPLv2 is a “copyleft” license: it grants everyone the freedom to copy and modify the Linux code, but that freedom carries conditions, including the requirement that any modified software code and any works “based on” it must be made freely available to all. The very point of the GPLv2 is to make it impossible for anyone to take GPLv2-licensed code and make it private and proprietary.

Working with open source software thus demands careful attention to legal and technical details. I regularly advise clients on the proper use of open source software, and I understand well the difficulty of reusing code licensed under GPLv2, especially for developing proprietary software. I was therefore intrigued by Prof. Nimmer’s explanation of the way Google had used the Linux kernel header files when it created Android.

The fact that Android is built on open-source Linux makes it attractive to many developers and users, but it presents some concerns for others. As Android has become more popular, clients have been increasingly interested in building applications that run on Android or even using the Android code in their own mobile devices. For many such clients, it is critical to their success that they can charge license fees for their products and keep their code secret to protect it from competitors. Google understood this, which is why it made Android available under the Apache Software License, a license that was much more business-friendly than the GPLv2.

But Prof. Nimmer’s article raised questions about what Google had actually done, so I began to look at the Android code. What I found really surprised me: Google took a novel and quite aggressive approach to developing a key component of Android — the Bionic Library. That library, a type of C Library, is used by all application developers who need to access the core functions of the Linux operating system. Google essentially copied hundreds of files of Linux code that were never meant to be used as is by application developers, “cleaned” those files using a non-standard and questionable technical process, and then declared that the code was no longer subject to the GPLv2, so that developers could use it without becoming subject to copyleft effect that would normally apply to GPLv2-licensed code taken from the Linux kernel.

Why does it matter?

My full analysis of the legal issues can be found here, but in short, I have serious doubts that Google’s approach to the Bionic Library works under U.S. copyright law. At a minimum, Google has taken a significant gamble. While that may be fine for Google, because it knows about and understands the risks, many Android developers and device manufacturers are taking that same risk unknowingly. If Google is wrong, the repercussions are significant for the Android ecosystem: the manufacturers and developers working with Android would be incorporating GPLv2-licensed code into applications and components and taking on the copyleft obligations of that license.

What is potentially even more interesting is what happens if Google is right. If that is the case, Google has found a way to take Linux away from the open source community and privatize it. Perhaps the community believes it can rely on Google to “do no evil” with that kind of power, but can it rely on others to be so magnanimous?

This article provides information, not legal advice. The views expressed are my own individual views and should not be attributed to any clients.

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The Argument for Android (From CNet.com’s Jeff Pugh)

Google Android

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Jeff Pugh, CNet.com

I admit the iPhone is a great looking device and has its advantages. The sleek, sexy curves and bright retina display are like shiny lures that attract fish. Android phones, depending on which one you have, vary in size, shape and weight. One Android phone isn’t like the others. Maybe that is what makes this a fun and often-changing debate.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I spend a lot of time on my phone. Judging from my data plan usage, I’m labeled a power user. But to me, aside from every bell and whistle associated with mobile devices, my most important feature to consider in connectivity. Maybe this debate boils down to which network or carrier you choose and not which phone is absolutely best. Android phones are on every network whereas the iPhone is only on AT&T and now Verizon.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Microsoft OneNote on iPhone

Microsoft Office OneNote Icon

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I just recently installed the MS OneNote app on my iPhone. Can’t say that it’s all that exciting.  The user interface is slow and is not incredibly intuitive.  While I was able to pull up my OneNote files that had been created within the MS Office Suite, the output is not nearly as well organized from a visual perspective.  It seems that the folks at MS should think about making this a more iPad-ready app because this is one app that needs some space to get the same functionality as provided by the LiveSpaces site or the hard version which comes with the Office Suite.  On this one, I think that downloading it while it’s free makes sense and providing the developer with lots of comments along the way.

Microsoft Office 11 for Mac — Looks Good

Office Mac 2011 is definitely an upgrade from the 2008 version.  Among other things, the user interface has improved dramatically.  The various tools and tabs on the ribbon are useful and intuitive.  In fact, I would claim that the Mac version is better than the Windows version.  I still have to figure out the ribbon UI in Windows and gave up long ago.  One of my favorite additions to the Office Suite is the “Notebook” template, which is very much like the Notebook offering made by CircusPonies.com, without any significant cost differential.  Most of the templates are more on the consumer side and I am looking forward to seeing if my Windows-based pleadings templates will be compatible with the Mac version.  Another key issue will be looking at the ease of being able to insert tables for exhibit lists, witness lists, or for demonstrative courtroom exhibits.  The Powerpoint program seems equally intuitive and the interface is clean and understandable.  Again, the templates are are little simplistic, but easily tailored to meet the needs of a trial lawyer preparing a presentation with use of video clips from a deposition, pdf exhibits, images, and interactive elements. The spreadsheet element of Office is what one would expect and offers a number of good templates, including invoicing, timesheets, and other useful tools for the legal profession.  Finally, I really like the smooth interface between SkyDrive and the Suite.  I have been using SkyDrive or its predecessors for some time and have enjoyed the remote accessibility to my files, especially during trials and travelling.  SkyDrive also makes it easy to share files with clients, which is becoming more important as cloud-based technology develops.  All in all, the suite is just one more reason to justify the transition to Mac as an office tool.  While many of us in the legal world are stuck on Wordperfect, this offering may just be the reason to finally break the chains so that lawyers can more easily interact with clients (most of whom use Word).  I give this new version of Office a 9.5 out of 10.  If there were templates for pleading, I’d give it a 10.  For additional reviews see, TechRadar.com and ZDNet.com.  For an article on whether it’s worth your time, money and effort to upgrade your present office suite, you can see this MacWorld article which does a good job of speaking to this issue.


My Ipad — More Germs than a Subway Toilet Seat !?!

“That’s right. Personal touch-screen devices like iPhones, iPads, Droids and BlackBerrys carry more germs than a toilet in a subway bathroom, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.” FoxNews.com Well, my view on this is that one should be using his/her germy-gel on a somewhat regular basis anyway.  Just glad that I keep some anti-bacterial wipes for cleaning my IPhone and IPad anyway.   Click here for article.  A much more detailed article on the topic can be found at the Sacramento Bee .  Hope this brightens your day.