tuesday, 8 may of 2012

Oracle gets partial victory in Google suit


Oracle gets partial victory in Google suit

A jury Monday gave both sides reason to hope in a federal trial that pits two of the country's biggest tech titans in a public battle over copyright uses that could ultimately impact what consumers pay for Android smart phones and other devices.

After almost a week of deliberation, a 12-person jury in U.S. District Court in San Francisco agreed with Oracle that Google had infringed on the overall structure and sequence of copyrights related to the Java programming language. But jurors deadlocked on whether the Java interfaces that Google used in building its Android operating system constituted a fair use of Oracle's code. Fair uses are protected under copyright law.

Observers said the split outcome gave both sides reason to applaud - Oracle because the jury agreed that Google had copied its code, and Google because jurors weren't all convinced that the copying represented infringement.

"If the jury had come back and said there's no infringement here, that would have taken care of that," said Bruce Wieder, an intellectual property attorney at Dow Lohnes and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. "Now the question is, what about the defense of fair use? And the answer to that is, we don't know the answer to that."

Monday's verdict came after the first part of a three-phase trial in which Oracle is seeking more than $1 billion in damages - although without a decision in its favor on the copyright issue, Oracle is unlikely to be awarded anywhere near that amount.

After the jury decision, Judge William Alsup ordered that the second phase of the trial, which involves Oracle's patent claims, begin immediately. Oracle delivered its opening statement to jurors Monday, with Google to make its case Tuesday. The remaining phases are expected to take several weeks.

Why it matters

The trial has been closely watched because an Oracle victory would allow it to ask for royalties on each Android device Google sells, making them more expensive. It could also diminish enthusiasm for manufacturing Android devices among Google's partners, given the multiple patent disputes the operating system has generated. Android is the most dominant mobile software system, running on 300 million smart phones worldwide.

The trial has also commanded attention for other reasons - offering the rare spectacle of some of Silicon Valley's wealthiest CEOs taking the stand to make their case. Oracle's Larry Ellison and Google's Larry Page both have appeared to testify. Former Sun Microsystems CEOs Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz testified as well. Java was developed by Sun, which Oracle bought in 2009.

Unresolved issue

Monday's muddled verdict left unresolved a major issue in the trial - whether the programming interfaces, which allow different pieces of software to communicate with one another, can be copyrighted. Immediately after the jury's verdict was read, Google said it would ask for a mistrial.

"We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin," the company said. "We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims."

Oracle issued a statement claiming victory.

"The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write-once, run-anywhere principle," the company said. "Every major commercial enterprise - except Google - has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms."

Free technology

During the trial's first phase, Google lawyers told jurors that Sun gave Java to the public freely, that Google built Android using free technologies, and that Sun approved of Google's use of Android. Oracle attempted to show that Google knew it had to obtain a license to build Android using Java but avoided doing so in an effort to avoid paying royalties. If no mistrial is declared, the question will eventually have to be decided by another jury, Wieder said.

The lawsuit originated in August 2010, when Oracle alleged that the Android operating system Google developed for smart phones and tablets made improper use of technologies covered by seven patents owned by Oracle.

The scope of the case has narrowed since it began, because five of the seven patents have been ruled invalid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

(Published by The San Francisco Chronicle - May 8, 2012)

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