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5/23/2012
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Google Beats Oracle Patent Claim

Second major phase of trial ends with a win for Google, but judge must still decide whether APIs qualify for copyright protection.

Oracle v. Google: Tour The Evidence
Oracle v. Google: Tour The Evidence
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Google on Wednesday was cleared of charges that it had infringed Oracle's Java patents, ending the second major phase of the trial.

"Today's jury verdict that Android does not infringe Oracle’s patents was a victory not just for Google but the entire Android ecosystem," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Oracle, however, did not concede defeat. "Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java," an Oracle spokesperson said via email. "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."

Oracle filed its lawsuit against Google last August and the trial began in mid-April. Oracle initially talked about $6 billion in damages. At the moment, it appears Oracle is unlikely to win enough to cover its legal costs.

[ Read Google Seeks New Trial In Oracle Fight. ]

The copyright phase of the trial concluded in early May. The jury found that Google infringed Oracle's copyrighted Java APIs when it created its Android operating system but not its Java documentation. The amount of infringing code, however, was so small that Oracle's potential damage award is also likely to be very small, if anything at all. The jury could not decide whether Google's use of the Java APIs was allowable as fair use.

With the copyright and patent phrases of the trial complete, Judge William Alsup must decide whether APIs qualify for copyright protection. There's reason to believe they do not: Earlier this month, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that neither the functionality of a computer program nor the format of its data files are expressive enough to merit copyright protection.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that APIs should not be copyrightable. "Improvidently granting copyright protection to functional APIs would allow companies to dangerously hold up important interoperability functionality that developers and users rely on everyday," said EFF attorney Julie Samuels in an online post earlier this month.

If Alsup decides that APIs do qualify for copyright protection, Oracle will have to take its copyright case back for a new trial because of the jury's inability to reach a conclusion about fair use.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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