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Google’s Android doesn’t infringe Oracle’s patents, jury decides

Published: May 24, 2012 | 8:55 am
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Jury foreman says he was often only holdout as jury sided with Google over infringement questions, as Oracle is left with little to show from expensive lawsuit

Google’s Android mobile platform does not infringe Oracle’s patents, a California jury decided on Wednesday, putting an indefinite hold on Oracle’s quest for damages in a fight between the two Silicon Valley giants over smartphone technology.

In a case that examined whether computer language that connects programs and operating systems can be copyrighted, Oracle had claimed that Google’s Android tramples on its intellectual property rights to the Java programming language.

Google argued it did not violate Oracle’s patents, and that Oracle cannot copyright certain parts of Java, an open source software language.

In addition to finding for Google on patents, the jury foreman at the San Francisco federal court told reporters that the final vote on a key copyright issue earlier in the case had heavily favoured Google.

David Sunshine, a New York-based intellectual property lawyer who advises hedge funds, said the outcome of the Google trial was humbling for Oracle. Had it won, it could have gained handsome payouts given the growing market for Android devices.

“It’s a huge blow,” Sunshine said.

Colleen Chien, a professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley, said the result showed the risks of IP litigation.

“Oracle came in this thinking it was going to win billions. Now it will probably walk away losing millions in legal fees,” she said.

Oracle trials

For Oracle and its aggressive chief executive Larry Ellison, the trial against Google over Java was the first of several scheduled this year against large competitors. Another trial is set to begin next week between Oracle and Hewlett-Packard over the Itanium microprocessor.

Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger said the company would continue to defend and uphold Java’s unique functionality.

“Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java,” she said.

Attorneys for Oracle looked grim after the verdict, while Google lawyers smiled and shook hands. Google general counsel Kent Walker said the company felt it was important to send a message by taking the case to trial.

“We didn’t want to back down when we felt the facts were on our side,” Walker told Reuters.

Although the jury found earlier that Oracle had proven copyright infringement for parts of Java, it could not unanimously agree on whether Google could fairly use that material.

Without a finding against Google on the fair use question, Oracle cannot recover damages on the bulk of its copyright claims.

And US District Judge William Alsup has not yet decided on several legal issues that could determine how a potential retrial on copyright would unfold, if at all.

Ahead of the trial, some observers had expressed concern that if Oracle succeeded in its copyright claims, it would be equivalent to allowing computer languages themselves to be copyrighted, which would set a dangerous precedent for untrammelled use of products and ideas.

API question

Judge Alsup has yet to rule on one key question: whether language APIs – application programming interfaces, which provide external “hooks” for processes – can be copyrighted.

Alsup has indicated that he will rule on that separately in the next stage of the trial, in which damages will be set. The jury indicated that they did not think APIs could be copyrighted, but Alsup has retained that determination as a matter of law.

Jury foreman Greg Thompson, 52, said that at times he was the only holdout for Oracle on the key “fair use” copyright question. When the jury finally declared itself deadlocked, the final vote count was 9-3 in favor of Google, Thompson said.

According to Thompson, a retirement plan specialist, one of the other jurors used a food analogy to describe Oracle’s evidence.

“He said he was waiting for the steak, and all he got was the parsley,” Thompson said. He added that in his opinion, Google’s arguments in favour of open software collaboration swayed the more tech-savvy jurors.

All the other jurors filed past reporters outside the courtroom and declined to comment.

Walker said he was briefing a group of Google engineers about the company’s legal issues when news of the verdict came in. “There was a real round of applause,” he said.

The high-profile trial began in mid-April and heard testimony from a number of key staff, including Ellison, Google chief executive Larry Page and Android chief Andy Rubin.

Android revelation

While Google has won a major victory through the jury verdicts, the trial documents revealed more detail about Android’s financial position than it might have wished.

During the trial, Judge Alsup revealed that Android generated roughly $97.7m (£62.3m) in revenue during the first quarter of 2010, and other documents fished from Google’s archives indicated how profitable it had been.

Android, the documents showed, has been far more successful than Google had expected it to be, with uptake by handset makers and customers running far ahead of predictions in 2010.

While Oracle is seeking about $1bn in copyright damages, the patent damages in play were much lower.

In the event it lost on patent liability, Google offered to pay Oracle roughly $2.8m in damages on the two patents remaining in the case, covering the period through 2011, according to a filing made jointly by the companies before trial.

For future damages, Google proposed paying Oracle 0.5% of Android revenue on one patent until it expires this December and 0.015% on a second patent until it expires in April 2018. Oracle rejected the proposal.

Shares in Oracle closed 1.2% higher at $26.68. Google stock was up 1.4% at $609.46.


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