Google Executive Chairman Schmidt Testifies His Staff Copied Only API Names, Not APIs

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-04-25 Print this article Print

The former CEO testifies to the court that Google used only the names of the application programming interfaces, not the APIs themselves.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt took a turn in the testimony chair April 24, defending his company's decision to go its own way in using Java to help build its now-hugely popular Android mobile device operating system.

Schmidt made his first appearance in the nine-day-old copyright-infringement lawsuit brought by Oracle, in which the database and enterprise applications maker claims Google deliberately and illegally used 37 pieces of the Java platform from Sun Microsystems. Oracle is seeking $1 billion in damages and a possible injunction against Google to use Java for Android.

But Google contends it did not need a specific Oracle or Sun license to do what it needed to do to design and construct Android.

APIs Are the Focal Point

Oracle acquired Sun in 2010 and is the global maintainer of the open-source Java programming language and all its tools. The central issue in the case revolves around application programming interfaces, which instruct the use of the code and are a major part of the Java franchise. Oracle contends that APIs are not part of the giveaway open-source code and that Google should have taken out a license to use them.

However, Schmidt told the court that Google used only the names of the APIs, not the APIs themselves.

"An interface is a specification. A name," Schmidt told Oracle lead attorney David Boies when Boies asked him for a definition of an interface. "There€™s a collection of those names that forms the standard that Java uses. We, Google, implemented those interfaces in our own way."

"You copied the 37 Sun Java API specifications?" Boies asked in response.

"We used the interface names, which is how one does this, and then did our own implementation of those services," Schmidt said.

"Are you saying that the only thing you copied was the names?" Boies continued. "Yes," Schmidt said.

Boies asked Schmidt another question about the technical nature of the APIs, but Schmidt said he wasn't briefed on it and couldn't answer.

Boies reiterated to the 12-person jury and presiding Judge William Alsup that Google is the only company using Java APIs without securing a license. Oracle CEO and founder Larry Ellison also made that claim on the second day of the trail.

Ellison testified April 17 that "Google is the only company I know that hasn't taken a license for Java ... I met with [former Google CEO, now Executive Chairman] Eric Schmidt in 2010 to discuss a joint project in which Google would use Oracle's version of Java in its Android software for smartphones rather than their own version of Java."

But the companies never set down an agreement, Ellison said.

Google Would Have Paid the Price for License

Schmidt, recounting some history of the Android project under questioning by Google attorney Robert Van Nest,  said Sun had asked for $30 million to $50 million in 2006 to jointly develop a mobile platform with Google. A deal of this nature would have saved Google time in getting Android to market, Schmidt said.

"We would have paid that simply to resolve it," Schmidt said.

But those negotiations also fell through. Android development group leader Andy Rubin testified that while Google wanted to make the software platform open-source, Sun wanted to impose some restrictions to which Google could not agree. Under Oracle's ownership, this has not changed.

Google then elected to develop Android on its own, which it launched in 2007. Schmidt, who was an executive at Sun for several years before moving to Google, said that Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz never said anything about Google needing a Java license for Android.

Sun CEO Didn't Ask Google to Buy Java License

In fact, Van Nest displayed a blog post from Schwartz that encouraged Google's Android work.

Google has argued that Oracle launched the lawsuit in 2010 only after Oracle decided it would be unable to develop a smartphone on its own. Ellison testified that Oracle did at one time consider acquiring both Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, and Palm Computing.

The case in federal court in San Francisco, which began April 16 and is expected to continue well into June, ultimately will determine what is a fair-game open-source tool and what is not. APIs are made up of software, specifications and techniques. Techniques cannot be copyrighted.

Oracle claims in the lawsuit that the "specifications and implementations of the APIs are not a method of operation or system."

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK's Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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