Jury Says Google Violated Copyrights ; Limited Decision in Favor of Oracle Will Not Require Modifications to Android

By Quentin Hardy; Nicole Perlroth | International Herald Tribune, May 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Jury Says Google Violated Copyrights ; Limited Decision in Favor of Oracle Will Not Require Modifications to Android


Quentin Hardy; Nicole Perlroth, International Herald Tribune


A U.S. jury found that Google copied parts of Oracle's Java code, but it couldn't decide whether it had violated fair use laws.

In a decision that all but guarantees continuing litigation, a U.S. District Court jury here has decided that Google infringed on the overall structure of software copyrights held by Oracle, but also said Google had not violated other important parts of Oracle's software known as Java.

The limited decision, issued Monday, means Google will not have to redesign its Android operating system, which would have slowed the march of Android phones that have steadily gained market share against the Apple iPhone. Oracle had sued Google, claiming that Google violated its copyrights to Java when it built the Android operating system. With 300 million Android smartphones, Android is now the dominant mobile software system in the world.

Oracle, which is likely to receive only modest damages for the copyright violation, will seek to have Google obtain a license to use Java, something Google does not want to do because it could make Oracle influential in new versions of Android. In a statement after the verdict, Oracle said "every major commercial enterprise -- except Google -- has a license for Java."

The jury said Google had violated Oracle's copyright, but it could not decide whether the violation was an acceptable level of fair use. A lawyer for Google, citing what he saw as a contradiction in that verdict, said in court after the decision was read that Google would call for a mistrial.

A statement from Google said that "fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin." The trial, which put the chief executives of both companies on the witness stand, concerned intellectual property for the Java software language that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. Java is a critical element of devices like smartphones and tablets running the Android operating system. A second part of the case, involving two patents on Java, began Monday. The third phase of the trial, which is being heard by Judge William H. Alsup, will focus on damages.

The jury found Monday that Google did improperly use an aspect of Java, nine lines of software code called rangeCheck, when it designed Android. Google, with its large cash reserves, could absorb any licensing fees it might be forced to pay to continue using Java, which is typically distributed free to programmers and for a fee to companies, as long as they agree to abide by certain rules.

But the decision raises questions about how carefully Google treats intellectual property rights, and could raise doubts among phone makers, who might well wonder what other legal claims might be lurking -- from Apple, Microsoft or Nokia, for example.

With only a partial win, Google is expected to continue to fight, said Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC. "There are going to be appeals," he said. "It looks like Google is close to what it wants, with just one copyright loss. If they have to get a license, all the Android phone vendors have to get one, too. It could give Oracle a say in future versions of Android, and that is something Google doesn't want. …

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