Oracle Must Curb Android Damages Claim vs. Google

Oracle has to lower its starting point for damages versus Google to $100 million, but it gets to interview Google CEO Larry Page to help the court determine whether Google willfully infringed on Java patents Oracle now owns.

Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) received some bittersweet news July 21 in its patent infringement case against Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) over Android.

The bitter end is that Oracle was ordered to lower its damages claim against Google in the case, from as much as $6.1 billion to a starting point of $100 million, according to Computerworld.

On the sweet end, the software maker learned it could depose Google CEO Larry Page for up to two hours to help the court determine if the search engine willfully infringed on Oracle's patents.

The bitter and the sweet are importantly related, as a finding by the court of willful infringement may result in a tripling of damages Google would have to pay Oracle. Given the numbers above, hundreds of millions is lot better than tens of billions.

Oracle sued Google last August, alleging that its Android operating system violates seven patents, related to Java, which the company acquired through its purchase of Sun Microsystems. While Google has denied any infringement, it recently signaled some merit to the matter when it indicated it would be willing to pay Oracle to settle.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup July 21 took both Oracle and Google to task at a hearing where he told both parties to be more reasonable in their requests for resolution of the Java patent case.

That chiding turned more serious July 21. Alsup told Oracle its expert, Boston University professor Iain Cockburn, overshot reasonable damages estimates in the case. He ordered Oracle to ratchet down the multi-billion-dollar estimates, warning that it had once more chance to provide a fair damage estimate at the risk of Oracle having it excluded.

However, he also agreed with Cockburn that advertising revenue Google earns from Android phones does contribute to Android's value.

Perhaps the biggest news is that Alsup agreed with Oracle that it should be allowed to question new Google CEO Page on the willful infringement matter.

"Oracle may depose [Google co-founder and CEO] Mr. Page for a maximum of two hours, excluding breaks, solely on topics relevant to the willfulness of Defendant's alleged patent infringement, and the value of Android to Defendant," Alsup wrote.

Page's testimony, in which Oracle's attorneys will bid to show he was aware the company was in dark territory by not acquiring a license for Java technology from Sun before Android launched in 2007, is crucial. Alsup cautioned that "there is a substantial possibility that a permanent injunction will be granted" if it is found guilty of infringement.

An injunction could be tough for Google, as intellectual property expert Florian Mueller noted: "With an injunction, Oracle would have the leverage to negotiate with Google a license deal that could result in a very high per-unit royalty."

Alsup currently has penciled in an Oct. 31 trial date for the case.