Java Trial: Page Walks Tightrope While Staring at Ceiling

Google CEO Larry Page continued his testimony on Wednesday in the trial over whether his company violated Oracle’s Java patents and copyrights.

Like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison attempted to do with his testimony on Tuesday, Page did his best to give little ground to the opposing counsel. Yet they managed to score points against Google anyway.

A Damaging Email

The questioning focused on an email Google employee Tim Lindholm sent to the company’s head of Android development, Andy Rubin. Oracle included the email in a slide presentation at the beginning of the trial, suggesting that it will be key to its case.

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, laid out in the email, was that a license would be necessary if Java was to be used in Android.

Page testified he didn’t remember the email and in fact didn’t remember Lindholm himself in any great detail, although he was aware he was employed at the company.

Google reportedly tried to keep the email out of the trial.

A $1 Billion Lawsuit

This is the fourth day of the trial now under way in a San Francisco U.S. District Court courtroom. Oracle is alleging that Google’s Android mobile operating system infringed on patents that Oracle acquired in 2009, when it bought Sun Microsystems. It is seeking nearly US$1 billion in damages.

Google, for its part, maintains the suit is part of Oracle’s quest to horn in on the smartphone market as it has been unable to carve its own path.

So far, the trial has revolved around the testimony of the two celebrity CEOs, both of whom occasionally flubbed their responses to hostile questions. Page reportedly stared up at the ceiling during questioning even as the judge directed him to answer questions. He also made the surprising statement that Android is important, but not critical, to Google — but then allowed that the board of directors might have been told it was critical.

A Well-Prepared CEO

From Google’s perspective, Page did what he set out to do.

“Larry appeared in court to directly tell the jury how Google independently and fairly created Android, relying only on the free and open parts of Java in a way its creators intended,” spokesperson Jim Prosser told the E-Commerce Times.

Oracle declined to comment for this story.

From the Google attorneys’ perspective as well, Page likely did what he set out to do, said Kelly Kubasta, a partner in Klemchuk Kubasta. “A well-prepared executive is often going to answer ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t remember’ because he or she is usually not involved in day-to-day operations.”

It gives the witness plausible deniability of many facts, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Double-Edged Sword

However, if a CEO plays it too dumb, it could resonate negatively with the jury, Kubasta continued. “The jury may look at the CEO and think he should have known what was going on. Either he is lying or just plain dumb.”

It also didn’t help that Page’s mannerisms suggested he was feeling defensive, he added. “When a judge rebukes you and tells you to answer yes or no questions with a yes or no, that doesn’t play well with a jury.”

All that said, Kubasta gave Page a grade of B+ for his performance on the stand.

“He didn’t give away anything he didn’t have to give away, which is always the first goal,” he said. “And ultimately you really don’t know how much of an impact his manner might have on the jury.”

He rendered the same judgment for Ellison — and gave him the same grade.

“Ellison lost a little bit in some of the questioning but I think he scored an important point when he was asked about in which instances was Java free,” Kubasta said.

“Ellison didn’t know part of the answer, which looked bad,” he acknowledged, “but he recovered nicely by adding that of all the institutional users out there, Google was only the one not using a license.”

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