Android Did Not Infringe Oracle Patents, Jury Decides

Good news for Google after a jury ruled that Android did not infringe Java patents belonging to Oracle

The courtroom tussle in the United States over Google’s Android has come to an end.

After giving Oracle a bit of a win in round one of the case, a federal jury found in favour of Google in Round 2, absolving the search giant of infringing on Oracle’s Java patents.

Unanimous Decision

The San Francisco jury unanimously said that Google did not infringe on two Java patents that Oracle had asserted in the case – US Patent No. RE38,104 and US Patent No. 6,061,520.

Oracle initially filed the lawsuit in August 2010 claiming Google had violated seven of its patents, but in the end only asserted two at trial. In fact, Oracle later offered to stay or dismiss all of its patent claims in favour of an early copyright trial.

Oracle’s win in the case came in the copyright phase of the trial, where the jury found that Google infringed on Oracle’s copyrights, albeit for a small amount of code. And with that being the case, Oracle may not be able to recoup as much as it hoped in damages.

After the verdict was read, US District Judge William Alsup of the federal District Court of Northern California, dismissed the jury. The jury was to be on hand for a third phase of the trial, the damages phase, but the judge let them go at the end of the patent phase of the trial.

“There won’t be a need for this jury to discuss damages since the copyright liability issues identified thus far will be postponed until the liability issue concerning the asserted Java APIs has been decided,” said Florian Mueller, author of the FOSS Patents blog and a consultant to Oracle.

Judge Alsup said he would be deciding on a copyright issue in the case within a week. He also said this was the longest civil trial he had ever been a part of.

Android Victory?

In a statement following the verdict, Google said: “Today’s jury verdict that Android does not infringe Oracle’s patents was a victory not just for Google but the entire Android ecosystem.”

In its own statement, Oracle said: “Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java. We plan to continue to defend and uphold Java’s core write once, run anywhere principle and ensure it is protected for the 9 million Java developers and the community that depend on Java compatibility.”

Overall, “the patent claims had been narrowed down significantly, so it was unlikely that Oracle was going to get a great deal,” said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. “I think there is an opportunity missed by both these vendors to forge a single ecosystem out of Java and Android. Google clearly was attracted to the Java ecosystem, but the copyright lawsuit risks fragmenting Java in the long run if parallel implementations proliferate.”

The case, though centered on intellectual property, may in the end actually boil down to “ego, money and power,” as Java creator James Gosling asserted when the case was initially filed. Indeed, high-powered, money-laden egos were a key part of this trial, with the likes of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Google CEO Larry Page, former Sun Microsystems CEOs Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz, and Google chairman Eric Schmidt making appearances on the witness stand.

Yet intellectual property and how it is interpreted in the software industry remains a key part of this case and has ramifications for the industry, depending on how APIs are positioned in the case. At the core of the case is whether APIs are copyrightable.

And Judge Alsup must make that determination in a decision that could be far-reaching for the software industry.

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