Groklaw accuses Mueller of quid pro quo -- attacks on Google for a lucrative consulting deal

Some of you may be familiar with the close coverage of the case from Florian Müller (Anglicized as Mueller), the FOSS Patents "legal expert" who has closely followed many of the lawsuits against Android operating system maker Google Inc. (GOOG).

I. Google's Biggest "Hater"

The former critic of software patents has played the curious role of born-again software patent evangelist, arguing that not all software patents are bad.  His frequent exclusive court documents and quotes allowed him to enjoy a meteoric rise in the world of journalism and blogging.  Over the last couple years he has cited by The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalCNET, DailyTech, and virtually other major tech publication under the sun.

If there was one constant in his commentary, it was that at nearly every step of the way, this proported independent journalist looked to portray Google as the big bad patent infringer.  Mr. Müller's claims regarding the recent Oracle Corp. (ORCL) Java lawsuit against Google were parrotted by many in the media, but were blasted by some veterans including Ed Burnette [source], a ZDNet blogger, and ArsTechnica's Ryan Paul [source].

Oracle Court
Mr. Müller's accounting of various Google court cases has long seemed curiously slanted.
[Image Source: Reuters]

I too had my suspicions about the blogger's claims.  I long suspected that he might be on Oracle or Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) payroll (or both), but I largely kept my suspicions to comments like this:

Florian Mueller's pro-Apple anti-Google stance has been made abundantly clear so I would take his commentary with a grain of salt.

For example he claimed that all Android tablets would be banned as a result of the PI loss by Samsung in Australia, but he was wrong:" rel="nofollow" rel="nofollow

The Sydney Morning Herald characterized Mr. Mueller's incorrect commentary as "ominous" and quotes an experienced lawyer (Mr. Mueller has no law degree) as saying Mr. Mueller is likely wrong.

II.  The Truth

DailyTech refrained from reprinting Mr. Müller's more extremist views as "expert fact" as some other sites stated, instead sticking to using the quotes and court documents he provided.

I always hoped that the FOSS Patent chief's commentary was simply an opinionated, but independent source.  But Mr. Müller's own bombshell admission calls his objectivity sharply into question.  He writes:

Disclosure of recently-formed consulting relationship with Oracle

I have been following Oracle v. Google since the filing of the lawsuit in August 2010 and have read pretty much every line of each court filing in this litigation. My long-standing views on this matter are well-documented. As an independent analyst and blogger, I will express only my own opinions, which cannot be attributed to any one of my diversity of clients. I often say things none of them would agree with. That said, as a believer in transparency I would like to inform you that Oracle has very recently become a consulting client of mine. We intend to work together for the long haul on mostly competition-related topics including, for one example, FRAND licensing terms.

Due to various delays, the trial now happens to occur pretty much at the start of this new relationship, and I will continue to cover this lawsuit in detail on this blog, especially during these eventful and interesting weeks. I won't have access to confidential information, but as Judge Alsup noted, this is a public trial, so there's no shortage of publicly available information.

Last year I mentioned my work on a Microsoft-commissioned study on the worldwide use of FRAND-pledged patents, and it's no secret that I have multiple clients in the financial services industry. Nothing has changed about my existing working relationships in any way. I am proud to serve these first-rate clients, and I will continue to work hard to provide all of them -- and all of my readers -- with reliable and accurate analysis.

FOSS Patents
It's official -- anti-Google blogger Florian Müller is on Oracle's payroll. 
[Image Source: DailyTech LLC/Jason Mick]

That alone may raise some eyebrows and red flags given the nature of Mr. commentary.

The fact that the disclosure came only on heels of swirling accusations on Groklaw makes the disclosure a bit more suspicious.  Further, Groklaw contributor pj writes:

It seems, according to the story, that Mueller and Oracle kissed and made up after he fought against Oracle and lost before the EU Commission, back when it was considering whether or not to allow Oracle to buy Sun. Remember the MySQL affair? No doubt Oracle deeply admired his work. Well. That's not what *I* heard.

Anyway, he has known, I gather, that he was going to be working for Oracle as an "analyst" and "for the long haul" for some time, he indicates. But he didn't think to mention it until now.

That's a very serious allegation.  Groklaw -- a keen observer in many of Google's recent lawsuits -- has thrown down the gauntlet and officially accused Mr. Müller (albeit in a legally careful roundabout fashion) of payola.

While one cannot deny that Mr. Müller (clearly well funded) has been following several Google-related lawsuits like a hawk, posting interesting legal insight and commentary, and exclusive court briefs, the issue is that Mr. Müller presented himself as an unbiased expert-cum-journalist.  If Groklaw's allegations prove true, Mr. Müller might as well kiss his career as a journalist goodbye.

Journalists, of course, are never supposed to be taking money from a company that they're writing about -- that's a classic conflict of interest, which would cause even your freshest J-school professors to wince with disdain.

For now Mr. Mueller is innocent until proven guilty with respect to Groklaw's allegations.  What it known and obvious is that the circumstances surrounding his sudden employment are highly suspicious and while he claims to be able to continue to provide independent commentary, he is no longer a credible journalistic voice with respect to Google, Apple, or Oracle.  At this point his opinion must be viewed as a paid spokesperson.

As for his past commentary, that's open to debate, depending on whether Groklaw's allegations prove true.

III. A Foul Smell From FOSS Patents 

We all make mistakes -- I've certainly had my share of the factual and grammatical flavor.  But I can safely say I've never taken money from a company who I'm writing or posting independent analysts about.  I am careful to even avoid owning stock in the companies I regularly write about.

Taking cash from the companies your blogging/writing about is kind of like a high school teacher dating his female pupil.  It's inappropriate.  It's peverse.  It's sick and wrong.

To me, to be caught taking cash for favorable posts is one and only thing -- payola.

To be fair, Mr. Müller for all his pro-Oracle, anti-Google rhetoric, is not alone in possibly falling victim to this forbidden fruit.  Indeed DailyTech exposed many such seemly dealings in the hardware reviews business, headlined by an eye-opening exposé that brought former executive editor Kristopher Kubicki much loathing from those whose dirt was exposed, but much respect from our readers.

That said Mr. Müller's relationship, if indeed as filthy as Groklaw claims, isn't an apples and apples comparison to these small fish.  Slanted reviews on a site with a million page views a month is a pitance compared with the levels of fame and fortune Mr. Müller's alleged secret relationship may have brought.  If Groklaw is right, Mr. Müller not only committed the cardinal sin of the journalistic world -- in affect accepting cash for coverage -- but he did it in the most flagrant ostentatious way possible.

Pass the Cash
FOSS Patents's Müller already admits to now being paid by Oracle.  Groklaw accuses the blogger of cultivating a long-time relationship with the company, agree to write anti-Google pieces in exchange for a future consulting gig. [Image Source: i-Sight]

To borrow the memo [PDF] from Microsoft's James Plamondon printed by Groklaw following the admission:

Analysts: Analysts are people who are paid to take a stand, while always trying to appear to be disinterested observers (since the appearance of independence maximizes the price they can charge for selling out). Treat them as you would treat nuclear weapons – as an important part of your arsenal, which you want to keep out of the hands of the enemy. Bribe Hire them to produce "studies" that "prove" that your technology is superior to the enemy's, and that it is gaining momentum faster.

Mr. Müller cheered bans on Android tablets writing, "I'd rather live in a world in which some wireless devices get banned from time time than in a dictatorship with a weak rule of law."

Innocent until proven on the payroll, but this editor's gut has long told him that those words do not sound like that of a credible journalist, independent analyst, or editor, but rather the words of a clandestine hired attack-dog for Google's rivals.

Sources: Groklaw [additional accusations], FOSS Patents [disclosure]

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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