Oracle, Google Trial: Goliath Vs. Goliath

Oracle hopes to convince a jury that Google's Android operating system tramples its Java intellectual property rights. There's no David here, and both companies have much to lose.
Oracle and Google faced off Monday in a San Francisco courtroom where Judge William Alsup is hearing Oracle's claim that Google's Android operating system infringes its Java patents and copyrights.

Oracle co-lead trial counsel Michael Jacobs said the case was about Google's use of Oracle intellectual property (IP) without permission.

"You can't just step on someone's IP because you have a good business reason for it," said Jacobs in his opening statement.

In August 2010, Oracle sued Google, and later sought damages exceeding $6 billion. Subsequent court hearings and patent re-examination have reduced the likely damage range to under $100 million, if Google loses.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is expected to testify during the trial that his company bought Sun primarily for Java, something Java creator James Gosling suggested in a blog post two years ago.

However, Oracle's plan to recoup what the company paid for Java through litigation, frustrated through it may be, isn't likely to figure prominently in the evidence presented to the jury. Judge Alsup warned Oracle's legal team against using the $7.4 billion Oracle paid for Sun to justify its high damage claim against Google, according to San Jose Mercury News reporter Brandon Bailey.

[ Read Google Denounces 'Baseless' Oracle Lawsuit. ]

Steven Osinski, marketing lecturer and board member for the College of Business Administration at San Diego State University, characterizes the conflict as a Goliath vs. Goliath situation. "There's no David here, and both have a lot to lose," he said in a phone interview.

Osinski suggests that a win by Oracle will hurt startups because they will become more wary of infringement claims. "It will impact innovation, if Oracle wins," he said. "Google can survive this kind of thing, but the small startups are going to be much more cautions."

Groklaw, a legal blog that has been following the case, argues that Google has already won, at least in the monetary sense. "What matters now is: can Oracle copyright APIs and can it copyright a computer language?" Groklaw's Pamela Jones wrote Monday. "That's what the trial is now about, and the answers to both questions matter enormously to the software industry and to [free open-source software]."

Oracle insists that Java's APIs can be copyrighted. Google has staked out the opposite position. While the law allows specific expressions to be copyrighted, it does not allow whole ideas to be locked away. And Google insists that programming languages are not themselves fixed expressions of code but variable structures that represent ideas.

Google argues that Oracle's own expert has described programming languages as abstractions, which marks them as ideas rather than fixed, copyrightable expressions.

"Computer programming languages are not copyrightable, and neither are Oracle's APIs," Google argues in a recent legal filing. "Oracle accuses Google of infringement for doing what the Oracle API specifications describe. That is a classic attempt to improperly assert copyright over an idea rather than expression."

By Monday afternoon, a jury had been selected and Oracle delivered its opening statement. During jury selection, Judge Alsup excused two software engineers, one from HP and the other from Cisco, from consideration. Google and Oracle each excused a lawyer from the jury pool. According to Reuters reporter Dan Levine, the judge believed they couldn't separate their own knowledge from the facts of the case.

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