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
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
"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
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 $200,000a far cry from the more than $1 billion Oracle was
"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 couldthe question and software
precedents defy logic regular folks can understand."