Google’s patent trial win seen as ‘near disaster’ for Oracle

May 24, 2012

May 24 (Bloomberg) -- A jury found Google Inc., the largest Web search provider, didn’t infringe Oracle Corp.’s patents in developing Android software, handing the database maker another defeat in a trial in which it sought $1 billion in damages.

The 10-person jury ruled unanimously yesterday that neither of the two patents at issue was infringed. While jurors found May 7 that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights, they deadlocked on whether it was “fair use,” denying Oracle the ability to seek $1 billion in damages and a court order blocking Google from distributing the smartphone software without paying for a license.

The patent phase of the trial was less important than the copyright issues because the patents were worth much less, said Brian Love, an intellectual-property attorney and teaching fellow at Stanford Law School. Still, the jury finding yesterday underscored how the trial went against Oracle, he said.

“This case is maybe something like a near disaster for Oracle,” Love said yesterday in a phone interview.

The jury found May 7 that Google had copied nine lines of Oracle code in Android, which has 15 million lines of code. That finding may not translate to big damages. Oracle may be limited to seeking about $150,000, the most allowed by law, for the copying, the presiding judge in the case has said.

‘Couple of Days’

“That potentially is not enough to cover what they are spending over a couple of days” in legal fees during the trial, Love said.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he may issue a ruling next week on whether Oracle’s Java application programming interfaces, software tools at the heart of the case, can be copyrighted. A ruling that they can’t would be another blow to Oracle, while a ruling for Oracle would revive the company’s ability to seek large damages.

Alsup must also rule on Oracle’s request that he overturn the jury’s patent verdict and issue a judgment in its favor based on his reading of the evidence. He also has to rule on Google’s request for a new trial on copyright infringement.

Immediately after the verdict was announced, the judge dismissed the jury from the case and canceled the third phase of the trial over damages.

Oracle, the largest maker of database software, alleged Google stole two patents for the Java programming language when it developed Android, which now runs on more than 300 million smartphones. In the first phase of the trial, the same jury found the search engine company infringed Oracle’s Java copyrights while it couldn’t agree on whether the copying was “fair use.”

The legal doctrine of fair use states that anyone can use copyrighted work without consent of the owner under certain circumstances, such as for teaching, in news reporting and commentary or to advance the public interest by creating something new.

‘A Victory’

“Today’s jury verdict that Android does not infringe Oracle’s patents was a victory not just for Google but the entire Android ecosystem,” Catherine Lacavera, Google’s director of litigation, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Google and Oracle’s experts had estimated damages for both patents at $3 million to $4 million if the jury found infringement.

“Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java,” Deborah Hellinger, a spokeswoman for Oracle, said in an e-mail after the verdict. “We plan to continue to defend and uphold Java’s core write-once run-anywhere principle and ensure it is protected for the nine million Java developers and the community that depend on Java compatibility.”

Jury foreman Greg Thompson, 52, said yesterday that during deliberations he alone among the 10 jurors thought that Google infringed Java patents. After almost six days of discussions, he said he was persuaded by other panel members to change his vote.

Jury Foreman

The jury lost two members over the course of the six-week trial. Thompson said he alone voted that Google’s use of Java copyrights didn’t constitute fair use early in deliberations in the copyright phase. Eventually he convinced two other jurors and the jury deadlocked after nine members voted that Google made fair use of the copyrights, he said.

“The more tech-savvy a person is, the more difficult it is to persuade them about what limitations should be placed on technology,” Thompson said in an interview after the trial.

The case is Oracle v. Google, 10-3561, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

ROBERT GALBRAITH

REUTERS

The company logo is shown at the headquarters of Oracle Corporation in Redwood City, California in this February 2, 2010 file photo.

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