In Google-Oracle case, jury’s findings may not be last word on infringement

May 8, 2012

On Monday, Oracle won a partial victory in its case against Google. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama reports :

A federal jury in San Francisco ruled Monday that Google infringed on copyrights held by Oracle.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ordered Google and Oracle to prepare arguments on that issue.

The jury had found that the programming interfaces in Android were very similar to those in Java in nine lines of code.

The jury was deadlocked, however, on whether Google’s use of the Java APIs fell under the umbrella of “fair use.” The case, which has been watched closely by the software industry, dealt with the question of whether Google was allowed to use the open Java programming language to build its Android platform without a licensing agreement.

In a statement after the verdict, Google said: “We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims.”

Oracle said that it was pleased with the decision. “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. Every major commercial enterprise — except Google — has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms,” said Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger in a statement.

However, after the verdict was given, Google planned to seek a mistrial, The Associates Press reports :

... Google will still try to set aside the jury’s verdict of infringement on the broadest copyright claim. Google’s lawyers intend to seek a mistrial on that issue, arguing that the verdict has no legal standing without an answer on the question of fair use.

Google is still hoping Alsup will rule that the Java technology in question for that part of the verdict can’t be copyrighted anyway. Alsup has said he intends to decide that question. If he finds that copyrights do not apply, then there’s nothing for Google to infringe.

That part of the case revolves around 37 of Java’s “application programming interfaces,” or APIs, that provide the blueprints for making much of the software work effectively. Other major companies, including IBM Corp, have licensed some of Java’s APIs, but Google never did.

Sun Microsystems, which Oracle bought along with Sun’s Java technology two years ago, had made most of Java freely available to computer programmers. Sun also sold licenses to companies that made significant alterations, known as forks, as Google did.

Oracle contended Google’s changes violated a promise to maintain Java so it works on any technology platform — a concept known as “write once, run anywhere.”

Bloomberg reports that the jury’s decision “may not be the last word on infringement.”

The jury’s findings may not be the last word on infringement. While the panel was asked to decide whether Google infringed parts of Java called application programming interfaces, or APIs, the ultimate decision on whether APIs are covered by copyrights will be made by Alsup later in the case. Alsup told the jury to assume APIs are copyrightable; he can decide later that they aren’t.

Alsup must also rule on Oracle’s request for a judgment in its favor that Google infringed Java copyrights and its copying wasn’t fair use. A ruling for Oracle could set aside the jury’s decision.

‘‘We appreciate the jury’s efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin,” Google spokesman Jim Prosser said in an e-mail. “The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that’s for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle’s other claims.”

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