Google offered to split mobile revenue with Sun, papers show

Google hoped that Sun would partner with it to bring Android to market, according to court documents

Google hoped at one time to codevelop Android with Sun, and was prepared to offer Sun a share of its mobile service revenue in return for making Java open source, according to newly released documents in Oracle's lawsuit against Google.

The documents also show that Google raced to get Android to market, because it feared Microsoft dominating the market for mobile phone software, and that Google considered selling a mobile phone service to users.

The documents, which include emails and presentations from Google executives, cast new light on Google's negotiations with Sun in the early days of its Android development. They were filed by Oracle last month as exhibits in the case and unsealed on Tuesday.

In a 2006 email to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Andy Rubin, head of mobile at Google, wrote that he was close to convincing Sun to open source Java.

"Initially this was a foreign concept to them and took some educating. Now we're at a point where they have conceptually agreed to open java and additionally they desire to broaden the relationship and become a customer of the Android system and Google," Rubin wrote. "Sun is prepared to walk away from a $100M annual J2ME licensing business into an open source business model that we together crafted. This is a huge step for Sun, and very important for Android and Google."

Rubin is apparently referring to money that Sun made from licensing Java to third parties. Oracle acquired the rights to Java when it bought Sun and is now suing Google, alleging infringement of its Java patents and copyrights in Android.

Rubin went on to say that Sun's president and CEO at the time, Jonathan Schwartz, was so excited about the idea of open sourcing Java that he wanted to "pick up the phone and call" Brin.

An undated presentation by Rubin and the Android team lays out details of Google's offer. It proposed that Sun become a founding partner of the Open Handset Alliance, the group of companies that supported Android when it launched. The presentation says Sun and Google would "engage in a co-development relationship."

The proposal included a three-year deal between the companies in which "Sun makes Java Open Source as part of [the] Android platform" and the companies work together to bring Android to market.

The proposal included a US$25 million to $50 million fee, which presumably would have been paid to Sun. In addition, if Google earned revenue from services running on Android, it was prepared to share that revenue with Sun.

One slide lists reasons for making the deal, including that it was critical to Google's open-source handset strategy, would dramatically accelerate its schedule and form an industry alliance to block Microsoft.

None of the documents show why the proposal failed to come to fruition. Google did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the documents.

Another email includes a draft of a response Rubin was composing, presumably to questions posed by Page. The email, dated October 2005, referred to two questions from Page including: "Open source handset solution (aka Android) is some ways away. What can we do in the meantime? Should we consider launching an MVNO (from Larry)? Other?"

An MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, offers a mobile service using network capacity leased from another operator, rather than building its own network. Google was rumored at various times to have been considering a mobile phone service but has never confirmed its interest.

Rubin's draft response did not directly address the MVNO question. But it did refer to a perceived threat by Microsoft. "It is widely believed by that if an open platform is not introduced in the next few years then Microsoft will own the programmable handset platform: Palm is dying, RIM is a one-trick pony, and while Symbian is growing market share, it's becoming a Nokia only solution," he wrote.

The heated legal battle between Oracle and Google is due to come to trial Oct. 31. Oracle accused Google of violating Java patents and copyrights in Dalvik, the virtual machine that Google wrote to run Java applications in Android. Google denies any wrongdoing.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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