Oracle, Google Begin Legal Battle Over Java APIs

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-04-16

Oracle, Google Begin Legal Battle Over Java APIs

IT giants Oracle and Google on April 16 began their legal battle in federal district court in Oracle's lawsuit accusing Google of misusing its proprietary Java APIs to help create the second-most-popular mobile device operating system in the world, Android.

Jury selection began April 16 at the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Francisco. The Hon. William Alsup is serving as presiding judge in the case, which the court clerk said is expected to last up to 10 weeks.
Oracle is seeking nearly $1 billion in damages. Opening statements will begin immediately after the jury is sworn in.

Oracle is represented by two of the most feared IP law firms in the world: Boies Schiller Flexner of Armonk, N.Y., and Morrison & Foerster of Palo Alto, Calif. Google is represented by Keker & Van Nest of San Francisco.

Oracle first filed suit in August 2010, claiming that Google illegally used seven Java application programming interfaces 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 claims in the lawsuit that the "specifications and implementations of the APIs are not a method of operation or system."

Oracle versus Google could well become a textbook case in the software intellectual property realm by defining whether APIs are software or techniques.

Details on the Lawsuit

Oracle America, which is what Oracle renamed Sun after the acquisition in 2010, has stockpiled thousands of patents for the last 15 years but released most Java technologies to open source in 2006. The Android operating system includes Java applications running on a Java-based application framework, with core libraries running on a Dalvik virtual machine.

According to the lawsuit, "Google actively distributes Android (including, without limitation, the Dalvik VM and the Android software development kit) and promotes its use by manufacturers of products and applications."

Contrary to popular belief, it appears Google did not have a licensing agreement with Sun for Java despite Oracle's claim that Google engineers were aware of the patents. Google, Oracle argued, facilitated the use of Android in smartphones and other products despite knowledge of Sun's existing patents.

"By purposefully and voluntarily distributing one or more of its infringing products and services, Google has injured Oracle America and is thus liable to Oracle America for infringement of the patents at issue," according to the suit.

Oracle is asking the U.S. District Court in Northern California for damages and an injunction against Google from using its IP in Android.

Will Oracle End Up With a Piece of Android?


Will Oracle End Up With a Piece of Android?

Oracle's legal strategy could pay off big time if it wins damages in this trial, because the Android device market is growing fast and is hugely profitable.

"The real question is: Does Oracle get a piece of Android, or not?" Tyler Ochoa, a copyright professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley, told Reuters. "The money is so large we can see why they are willing to spend a lot of money fighting over it."

The Java programming language itself, used to connect and activate various applications and devices over the Internet, was released to the open-source community back in 2006 by its creator, Sun Microsystems, and is free of charge but governed by the GNU Public License. However, Oracle claims the application programming interfaces used to develop and connect Java software applications to other systems have been its own since Jan. 27, 2010--the day Oracle acquired Sun in a $7.4 billion deal.

Oracle: Lots of Legal Business to Handle

Oracle's lawyers will be busy this year in court. The case is the first of four big tech trials involving Oracle scheduled for the next few months. Three are to take place in Northern California and one in Nevada.

The others include one scheduled for the end of May against Hewlett-Packard over the Itanium microprocessor, a retrial against SAP AG in June over alleged copyright infringement, and another copyright case against smaller competitor Rimini Street expected later in the year.

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Rocket Fuel