Oracle Claims Google Owes $9.3 Billion for Java Copyright Violations

In a court filing, Google lawyers describe Oracle's argument demand for as much as $9.3 billion in damages for Java copyright violations as legal chicanery designed to trick the jury in an upcoming trial.

Java Copyright Trial

Between $1 billion and $9.3 billion—that's the range a California jury will have to consider in a trial to determine how much Google should pay in damages if it finds the company violated Oracle's Java copyrights.

Oracle sued Google in 2010 for using certain Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android mobile operating system without first obtaining a license for the technology from Oracle. At the time, Oracle sought $1 billion in damages from Google.

The case first went to trial in 2012 and ended with a jury deciding that Google had infringed on Oracle's APIs, but it remained undecided on whether that infringement constituted fair use of Oracle's technology. The trial judge in the case later ruled that the specific Java APIs at the center of the controversy did not have copyright protections and that Google therefore had not infringed on anything.

In 2014 a federal appeals court, however, reversed that ruling and held that the Oracle APIs were protected under the Copyright Act, but the appellate court left it up to the lower court to decide if Google's actions constituted fair use as defined under the Copyright Act.

Google, with the support of a large number of technology companies and rights groups, appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2015 however, refused to review the case.

A second trial on whether Google's use of the Java APIs constituted fair use is now scheduled to begin May 9.

And Ocean Tomo, a company hired by Oracle to estimate damages in the case, asserts that Google now owes $9.3 billion in damages, or more than nine times the previous estimate.

A recent report by the firm, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California argues that Oracle is owed $475 million in actual damages and some $8.83 billion in profits that Google made from its allegedly illegal use of Oracle's intellectual property.

The company says the estimate is based on several factors including the fact that the IP in question was critically important to the timing of Google's launch of the Android platform and the fact that Google has profited enormously from its use of the technology.

If Google had not infringed on Oracle's copyright, Sun Microsystems, which originally developed the Java language before Oracle acquired it in 2010, would have generated more revenue from the technology and could have potentially introduced or licensed a successful mobile platform, Ocean Tomo argued.

Predictably, Google has pushed back strongly on the damage estimates by Ocean Tomo arguing in its court filings that it "fails to offer anything resembling an expert analysis."

The "allegedly infringing material makes up a mere fraction of a percent of code in the complex Android smartphone platform," Google lawyers argued in a court brief filed in response to Ocean Tomo's damage estimates.

The Google brief challenges Ocean Tomo's assertion that Oracle—via its Sun acquisition—would have made a successful run at the mobile market, but for the alleged IP theft. It dismissed outright the company's suggestion that all of Google profits from its Android platform was somehow directly the result of its using the less than one percent of the code it allegedly used without a license.

"This is chicanery designed to trick the jury and give them an alternative basis to arrive at a huge damages award, based on no evidence or analysis," the company's lawyers claimed.

Many see the final outcome in the case as having enormous implications for the industry as whole. Google and many others have argued that APIs are critical to enabling communications between applications and that granting a copyright for any API would make it that much harder for developers to write applications that are capability of integrating and interoperating with other apps.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.