Java Jurors Douse Oracle's Hopes
There may be dancing in the streets of Mountain View, now that Google has been found not to have violated Oracle's Java patents. The bitter court battle is not quite over, with several unresolved issues still before the judge, but the chances that Oracle will come out of it with any significant satisfaction have diminished to almost nil. There may be some potential avenues of appeal for Ellison, et al, however, depending on what the judge decides.
May 24, 2012 8:39 AM PT
Executives at Google no doubt are heaving signs of relief at the outcome of the latest -- and possibly last -- phase of the Java copyright and patent trial: The jury unanimously found that Google did not infringe Oracle's patents.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the trial in the U.S.District Court of Northern California, dismissed the jury after the verdict was read. They were originally scheduled to hear the third and last portion of the case -- the damages phase. Now, if the court proceeds with a damages phase, a new jury will be empaneled.
Can APIs Be Copyrighted? Stay Tuned
It's likely the judge will rule on an unresolved issue from the first phase of the trial -- the copyright infringement question -- that might render the need for a damages phase moot, said Kelly Kubasta, a partner at Klemchuk Kubasta.
During the copyright phase of the trial, the jurors were asked to decide whether Google used Oracle's copyrighted material in 37 Java APIs written for Android. In the event they did find Google had used this material, the jurors were asked to decide whether it could be considered fair use.
The jury found that Google did incorporate Oracle's Java language in the 37 APIs. However, the jurors could not agree on the question of whether it was fair use of the material.
All along, though, Alsup has been considering the question of whether APIs can even be copyrighted, and he is expected to rule on that shortly. If he rules they cannot, that portion of the copyright verdict will be put aside.
"I believe Alsup will rule they are not copyrightable in the first place," Kubasta told the E-Commerce Times.
However, if Alsup should rule they are copyrightable, Google would be facing very limited damages based on the parameters of the case, Kubasta continued.
"I would guess they would be on the hook for US$150,000 or so," he said. "That is nothing for them."
Google, the Comeback Kid
Google's victory in this trial was not a foregone conclusion. There were early signs the search engine giant had shown up in court with the weaker hand.
"Oracle's case did seem to be stronger," Kevin C. Taylor, partner at Schnader Harrison, told the E-Commerce Times.
One challenge for Oracle, however, was that it had to base its arguments on very narrow grounds, he said. For instance, it wound up able to cite only two patents that Google allegedly violated, limiting the scope of what the jury could consider.
That Google was found to have infringed on Oracle's copyrights but not to have violated its patents is understandable, Taylor said.
"They are two different issues and provide two different types of protection," he explained. "A patent protects the process itself, while the copyright protects the expression of that process."
Oracle's Strong Start
Oracle filed suit against Google, alleging that that its Android mobile operating system infringed on patents that Oracle acquired in 2009, when it bought Sun Microsystems. Oracle claimed it was owed nearly $1 billion in damages as a result.
For much of the closely watched trial, Google seemed to be behind the curve. CEO Larry Page's testimony reportedly was painful to watch at times, as he stared at the ceiling while being questioned on the stand. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison also had some weak moments, but his testimony seemed to accomplish Oracle's goals.
Also, some of the evidence Oracle introduced was very compelling.
In its questioning of witnesses in both the patent and copyright portions of the trial, Oracle pointed to an email Google employee Tim Lindholm sent to Android head Andy Rubin.
The email referenced conversations Lindholm had with Page and Google cofounder Sergey Brin, during which they directed him to find alternatives to Java. Lindholm's eventual conclusion was that a license would be necessary if Java was to be used in Android. Google reportedly tried to keep the email out of the trial.
Oracle also made much of Google's attempts to form an alliance with Sun in order to justify its use of Sun's IP.
Not Over Till It's Over
Google is not home free yet. The judge still has to rule on the issue of whether APIs are copyrightable. If he rules they are not, there is a good chance Oracle would appeal, Taylor said. "They have a good argument for that position."
Oracle and Google did not respond to our requests to comment for this story.