Oracle vs Google – patent trial likely to begin in earnest today

2 May 2012

After two days of deliberations by the jury in the Oracle vs Google copyright infringement lawsuit, a decision looms and it appears the case will now go into the patent phase.

Oracle is seeking US$1bn in damages and a possible injunction, alleging Google stole parts of the Java software to build the Android mobile operating system. Oracle acquired the ownership of the Java platform in 2010 when it bought Sun Microsystems for US$7.4bn.

Jury discussions will begin again today in San Francisco, California, and when a decision is reached, the patent phase of the trial will begin.

The Android operating system features on 500m devices worldwide and is used by Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG and many other manufacturers.

The copyright infringement case against Google covers 37 different copyrights now owned by Oracle.

The patent element of the high-profile case will focus on two patents now owned by Oracle.

Can APIs be copyrighted?

The consequences of the case for the software and the mobile industry are vast as it is not clear what elements of Java code are free and which can be licensed.

Commercial deployments of Java among the open-source community still require subscribing to the GNU Public License. One of Oracle’s bones of contention is Google has somehow managed to use Java in developing Android without a licence.

Another key IP question facing the software industry is are APIs covered under copyright law?

In this case, the jury has been instructed to assume APIs can be copyrighted and deliberate on the evidence that they have been presented.

Google argues its use of Java falls under the fair use category and that it transformed those APIs to create a whole new operating system.

Oracle argues Google just took the Java APIs as they were and that Google’s use of Android cannot be considered non-profit because of the money it makes from advertising and other Android-related services.

One of the main attractions of Android for most smartphone manufacturers is Google does not charge a licence fee for the use of the operating system.

Whatever happens, the coming days could prove pivotal for the mobile, and indeed the entire software industry, globally.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years