It took Google CEO Larry Page the better part of an hour to admit with a definitive "no" that his company didn't take out a license for using Java application programming interfaces, but the company co-founder also contended in court April 18 that at the time his company didn't believe it needed one in its development plan for Android.
Page testified on Day 3 of the Oracle v. Google copyright and patent trial in federal court in San Francisco. Oracle is charging Google with stealing parts of its Java software to help build its highly successful Android mobile device operating system and is seeking about $1 billion in damages.
"I'm not sure whether or not we got a license to anything," Page told presiding Judge William Alsup and a 12-person jury. "We only used elements of the Java programming language that are freely available in the public domain.
"When we weren't able to reach terms on a partnership [with Oracle], we went down our own path."
Avoided 'Yes' and 'No' Answers
Page at first had been reluctant to give direct answers to questions asked by Oracle attorney David Boies about Google's approach to using Java in Android. Judge Alsup had to interrupt the line of questioning several times to tell Page to answer simply "yes or no."
"Most of the questions are yes or no, and you should try to answer in that spirit," Alsup instructed Page. "So let's do that."
At one point, Boies asked Page if Google uses certain Sun or Oracle APIs in Android, and if Page was aware that Sun included those APIs in its copyrights. Page said he knew that Google uses Java APIs in developing Android, but also that he had "no idea what Sun copyrighted."
Boies then asked if Page ever asked anyone about this, and Page responded: "I do not remember."
Ostensibly, there is confusion about what parts of the open-source Java code are free and downloadable and which are licensable, and this court case stands to become a landmark in making that distinction. In fact, it could well impact the entire software industry.
While the Java language itself belongs to the open-source community and is free of charge to use, it still must be licensed for commercial deployments under the GNU Public License. The application programming interfaces of Java may be another matter, since APIs are made up of software, specifications and techniques.
Oracle claims in the lawsuit that the "specifications and implementations of the APIs are not a method of operation or system."
Oracle CEO and co-founder Larry 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."
Companies Never Made an Agreement
But the companies never set down an agreement, Ellison said.
Page, answering questions posed by Google attorney Robert Van Nest, said those partnership discussions happened in earlier talks with Sun Microsystems involving its proprietary IT. "Use of that technology would have been helpful, but it turned out to be unnecessary," Page said.
Google went on to develop Android by itself, using what it considered to be the open-source components of Java and other open-source software components.
"But just because something is open source doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it," Ellison said Tuesday.
The case is expected to continue for eight to 10 weeks at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Background on the Case
Oracle first filed suit in August 2010, claiming that Google illegally used seven Java APIs that Oracle owns to help build the Android operating system. Google contends that the APIs it uses cannot be copyrighted because doing so would be similar to copyrighting a technique used to perform a task. Legally, techniques are not considered intellectual property.
Oracle lead attorney Michael Jacobs had asserted on April 16 that Oracle "will prove to you from beginning to end ... that Google knew it was doing the wrong thing. This case is about Google's use, in Google's business, of somebody else's property without permission," Jacobs said. "You can't just step on someone's IP because you think you have a good business reason for it."
Google contends that Oracle was planning on getting into the smartphone business itself, would have been a competitor to Android and simply wants to horn in on the profits of the popular open-source mobile device system. Ellison testified April 17 that Oracle did at one time consider acquiring Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, and Palm Computing.
Android, released in 2008 by Google to partners such as Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers for smartphones and tablet PCs, now runs more than 300 million mobile devices.
Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz