Jury Still Out in Copyright Phase of Oracle vs. Google Java-Android Trial

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-05-04

Jury Still Out in Copyright Phase of Oracle vs. Google Java-Android Trial

In a civil trial that could profoundly affect the way software is created, deployed and licensed for decades to come, a 12-person jury in a federal court in San Francisco came close but did not render a decision May 4 on whether Google illegally infringed upon copyrights held by Oracle in the Java-Android intellectual-property case.

Jurors were instructed to answer four questions but only came to agreement on only three of them. The questions were:

  • Did Google infringe upon copyrights in the use of Oracle's Java application programming interfaces, or was it fair use?
  • Did Google infringe upon copyrights regarding the documentation of the Java APIs?
  • Was there infringement of specific Java code?
  • Did Sun/Oracle lead Google to believe that it didn't need license to use Java APIs?  

The jury did not tell the court which of the four questions was preventing it from rendering a complete decision.

Presiding Judge William Alsup, seeking a unanimous decision, then advised the jury to take the weekend and "think about it" before returning to court May 7. He instructed them not to do any more research and to avoid reading accounts about the case in the media.

"Since there is hope of reaching a decision on that [final] question, we should take advantage of that hope," Alsup said.

Alsup, who has gained respect and admiration from those in the courtoom for his ability to nudge the slow-moving wheels of justice along as quickly and efficiently as possible, would like to move to Phase 2 of the case (patents) as quickly as possible. The case is expected to continue for several more weeks.

At issue will be two key patents that Oracle claims were also infringed upon by Google in its Android development. This portion of the litigation isn't expected to last nearly as long as Phase 1, simply because of fewer evidential documents.

Two More Phases to Come

Phase 3 will involve damages, if any are awarded.

In the case that was brought in 2010 and began April 16, Oracle charged Google with stealing 37 application programming interfaces from its Java software suite to help build its highly successful Android mobile device operating system. Oracle is seeking about $1 billion in damages and a possible injunction against Google using the software.

APIs, as they are commonly known, consist of software, specifications and techniques used to write and test software code for operating systems and applications. At the crux of the matter is whether software-development techniques are intellectual property that can be copyrighted. Legally, techniques are not considered intellectual property.

Both Sides Are Already Sparring Over the Next Phase

On May 4, Oracle asked a judge to bar Google from presenting more testimony from its star witness, former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, in the forthcoming patent phase. Schwartz provided some of the most convincing testimony for Google in the case.

Schwartz served as either Sun President or CEO during the original Google-Sun negotiations in 2005, 2006 and 2007 about using Java--or forks of Java--in Android. He testified on April 27 that companies could use Java without buying a license so long as they didn't claim to be Java-compatible and use the Java logo.

Google had asked the judge if it could reseat Schwartz for another go-round on the witness stand during the patent phase. Oracle responded by asking the court to bar Schwartz's testimony during the trial's two upcoming phases-- patent claims and damages--because he didn't answer previous questions in direct enough fashion.

The motion said that "Google's question called for a yes or no answer, but Mr. Schwartz in response volunteered an opinion as to what 'we' 'felt' about the grounds for pursuing litigation against Google over Android."

The judge said he would take the motion under advisement.

Confusion Widespread

Obviously, there has been confusion about what parts of the open-source Java code are free and downloadable and which are licensible.

While the Java language itself has belonged to the open-source community since 2006 and is free of charge to use, the community is maintained by Oracle and the software still must be licensed for commercial deployments under the GNU Public License. The application programming interfaces of Java have always been another matter, since APIs are made up of multiple components.

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

Background on the Case

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 Editor of Features and Analysis for eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz

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