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Split Decision: Jury finds Google infringing in Oracle copyrights in 1 of 2 counts

Radford C. May 7, 2012 2

Oracle vs Google

The ongoing drama between Google and Oracle has reached a boiling point as the jury reached a partial verdict with Google infringing Oracle’s Java-related copyrights. The second count of whether Google made fair use of the Java APIs is still up in the air as the jury has not left those questions unanswered. However, all jurors have unanimously agreed that Google did infringe on Oracle’s copyright. The following questions were answered unanimously by the jury:

  1. As to the compilable code for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group, has Oracle proven that Google has infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works? Jury: YES
  2. As to the documentation for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group, has Oracle proven that Google has infringed? Jury: YES
  3. Has Oracle proven that Google’s conceded use of the following was infringing, the only issue being whther such use was de minimis (used minimally): Jury: YES
  4. Has Google proven that Sun and/or Oracle engaged in conduct Sun and/or Oracle knew or should have known would reasonable lead Google to believe that it would not need a license to use the structure, sequence and organization of the copy righted compilable code? Jury: YES

As to how the jury concluded through this verdict, they’ve found that Google infinged on Oracle’s copyrights by its use of the structure, sequence and organization (SSO) of the 37 Java APIs used in Android. SSO is basically a program structure like command names, methods, etc. It’s very cloudy how this can infringe as we looked at another case (Softel, Inc v. Dragon Medical & Scientific Communications, Inc) dated back in 1997-98 where Arizona State University Law Professor Dennis Karjala talks about how “program elements, such as structure, sequence, and organization (“SSO”) and elements of software interfaces, should not be protected by the copyright”.

In that regard, it’ll be interesting to see how Judge Alsup decides this because if this is held true, there will be plenty of other companies within targeting range of Oracle’s copyrights, it could open up a variety of lawsuits against Microsoft, IBM and other open-sourced language that may have derived from the Java language.

But the real deciding factor, at least in this case that led to that verdict was the emails between Tim Lindholm, Andy Rubin, and Eric Schmidt talking about the need to license Java which possibly swayed the jury to think that Google knew that they had to license Java to keep Android potentially safe from future suits – at least in this count. Ultimately though, despite the unanimous decision, Judge Alsup will ultimately make the call to see whether SSO can be copyrighted.

And the damages?

As for damages, it’s still early. Oracle counsel David Boies said that Oracle should be owed a portion of Android profits – a statement a bit different from their earlier stance when they were expecting just “statutory damages” for this portion. Judge Alsup threw it out and said there should be just one line of statutory damages where the jury would ultimately decide – making it much smaller in damage claim than Oracle had hoped to achieve with its legal action.

Nothing has been completely in stone as the judge has not made the final ruling on the use of copyrightable SSO (Oracle) the two heavyweights will be submitting responses to the others’ briefs on May 14th, with the judge making his decision at some point thereafter. After the partial verdict, Google and Oracle made a statement regarding the jury’s decision:

Google:

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:

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. 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.

Via »The Verge