As Oracle and Google Both Claim Wins in the Java Case, What's Next?

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-05-08 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The jury in the Oracle vs. Google lawsuit returned a partial verdict, saying Google infringed on Oracle's Java copyrights. However, as jurors deadlocked on the issue of fair use, the issue of API copyrightability becomes paramount.

Now that a jury has found for Oracle in its patent and copyright infringement case versus Google, what happens next?

A California jury returned a partial verdict in favor of Oracle May 7, finding that Google did indeed violate the company's copyrights related to the Java programming language and effectively stole some APIs for use in the Android operating system. However, the findings were perhaps good for both sides, as the verdict leaves several key questions unanswered.

While Oracle won on the copyright claim, the jury found that Google only infringed on nine lines of code.

At the core of the case is whether APIs are copyrightable. And U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the case, must make that determination in a decision that could be far-reaching for the software industry.

On the issue of what is copyrightable, a CNET report said:

"What is copyrightable is creative expression," said Julie Samuels, an attorney with the Electronic Freedom Foundation "What is not [copyrightable] is functional information. The programming language is not. You can't copyright a language. It's what you make of that language."

Added Bruce Wieder of the firm Dow Lohnes, "Originality is important. If there's one way to do something, then you have a real problem whether it's copyrightable."

A number of companies€” including Microsoft, Motorola, Apple and Samsung€” are engaged in an ongoing series of court cases concerning which ones own patents on a number of different technologies, especially technology related to mobile device hardware and software. A decision on the copyrightability of APIs could open the floodgates to more litigation.

The jury deadlocked on whether Google was able to prove fair use of the copyrighted works. Fair use is a copyright principle that says that copyrighted material may be freely used if certain factors are in place or the use meets certain criteria.

"If the jury had come back and said there's no infringement here, that would have taken care of that," Wieder, the Dow Lohnes IP attorney and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, told the Houston Chronicle. "Now the question is, what about the defense of fair use? And the answer to that is, we don't know the answer to that."

The partial verdict says Google infringed the sequence, structure and organization of 37 Java APIs through the use of those APIs in Android, according to the jury of five men and seven women. The jury deliberated for a week before returning the verdict May 7 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

With the mixed verdict, Google lawyers immediately requested a mistrial, saying there could not be a partial verdict on question 1. Alsup said he will hear motions on the mistrial and have that issue sorted out by Thursday, May 10.

"It is a mixed and not very clear decision," said Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC. "Much depends on what the judge rules and how the two parties react. It is more likely to trigger appeals and other motions."

John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester Research, told eWEEK: "I'm no legal scholar, but it seems to be the jury's decision is bad news for Oracle. It's just about a 'worst case' decision: Oracle wins on principle, but fails to force Google to significantly change its code and/or collect a big financial penalty. I've always thought that Oracle took a calculated risk that it could reap large enough benefits from the Google suit to compensate for the ill will the suit created among some developers. The verdict of the jury in the copyright case seems to give Oracle paltry benefits in exchange for the developer ill will. This result helps to cement the view of Oracle as the big bad corporation trying to win in the market by squelching innovation by developers. This view of Oracle helps to drive developers away from the company and potentially away from Java."

With the jury findings of May 7 alone, Oracle is looking at nothing more that statutory damages, which could be for less than $200,000€”a far cry from the more than $1 billion Oracle was looking for.

"I was also struck by the jury's inability to decide whether or not Google's use of Java constituted 'fair use'" Rymer said. "I wonder how many juries could€”the question and software precedents defy logic regular folks can understand."



 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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