Google And Oracle Chided As Java Lawsuit Heats Up

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US District Judge Alsup told Oracle and Google to be more reasonable in the Android Java patent case

Oracle’s patent infringement lawsuit against Google heated up at a tense court hearing that demonstrated just how far apart the two sides remain.

At a hearing in San Francisco characterised as “testy” by one report, US District Judge William Alsup chided both sides as unreasonable and at various points called Google “ridiculous” and Oracle “crazy”.

“You’re both asking for the moon and you should be more reasonable,” Alsup told lawyers for Oracle and Google, according to a Reuters report.

Seven Patent Suit

Oracle brought its suit against Google in August 2010, claiming that in the making of its Android mobile operating system Google infringed on seven patents pertaining to Java.

Oracle owns Java through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010. However, a preliminary US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) re-examination of the patents in the suit so far indicates that many of the claims in at least five of the patents have issues and have been temporarily rejected by the USPTO.

Meanwhile, in court filings Oracle says it is owed anywhere from $1.4 to $6.1 billion (£0.9 to £3.7bn) in damages, according to calculations by the database giant’s expert. Yet, Google dismisses that claim and denies it owes Oracle anything at all.

“Zero is ridiculous,” Alsup said in rejecting Google’s position that its ad revenue should not be factored into any damages. However, according to a Bloomberg report, Alsup also called Oracle “crazy” for trying pin its damages claim to the entire value of the Android market.

Judge Alsup has in the past questioned whether Google openly and wilfully infringed Java patents. In a past pre-hearing notice, Alsup said, it “appears possible that early-on Google recognised that it would infringe patents protecting at least part of Java”.

At the current hearing, Oracle attorney Steven Holtzman probed that theory, entering into evidence an internal email sent to Google’s Android expert Andy Rubin from a company engineer that said Google needed to “negotiate a licence for Java”, according to Bloomberg’s report.

Bloomberg also reports that Google rejected a $100 million (£61m) deal with Sun in 2006 that would have covered Google in developing Android. However, Google’s attorney, Robert Van Nest, said that deal was for a technology partnership to jointly build Android, rather than simply a patent licence, the report said.

Harsh Penalty For Google

Alsup noted that it appeared that Google’s product “is in direct violation” of the Oracle patents and, if not, why bother to negotiate, he asked. Alsup also warned Google that the penalty would be harsh if Google is found to have wilfully infringed the Java patents.

Van Nest said there was no specific discussion of patents and he hinted that any code that uses Java likely came from a third party.

Meanwhile, in a post based on recent filings to the court, Florian Mueller, a close observer of the Oracle/Goggle lawsuit, said he believes Google has “blinked” and indicated a willingness to broach settlement efforts. At issue is Google’s use of the term “informal resolution” of the matter in a filing to the court.

“The biggest news is that Google, which has so far dismissed Oracle’s assertions as if they had no merit whatsoever, has for the first time indicated in public (i.e. in a public court filing) its willingness to settle this case with Oracle,” Mueller said.

Mueller called this a “fundamental departure” from Google’s positions to date and can only be interpreted one way. The sentence that caught Mueller’s attention reads:

“Such a narrowed case will also eliminate the need for those efforts specifically directed at the claims rejected through re-examination, including motion practice, expert reports, and other trial preparation, as well as make it more likely that the parties could reach an informal resolution of the matter.”

For his part, Mueller noted:

“In principle, it’s constructive if a party indicates a willingness to settle. But there’s a fundamental difference between negotiating in private and letting the court (as well as the public) know  –  more than three months before the scheduled trial (!)  –  that one isn’t so sure of one’s defences anymore. This stands in clear contradiction to Google’s past positions and declarations, and it looks increasingly like an admission all by itself. Discovery is almost complete, and it probably did not go too well for Google.”

A trial in the case would begin at the end of October, barring a stay by Alsup, potentially to move the parties closer toward settlement. Whatever the case, one thing is clear and that is that the no nonsense Alsup is clearly in command of the proceedings.

During a point in the hearing where Holtzman was reluctant to share financial details of the case, Alsup is reported as saying: “This is a public proceeding. You lawyers and companies are not going to handcuff the court. This is not a wholly owned subsidiary of Oracle Corp.”

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