A federal judge said Oracle Corp. (ORCL) can’t seek $1 billion in damages from Google Inc. (GOOG) for infringing copyrights when it developed Android software running on more than 300 million mobile devices because a jury couldn’t agree on whether it was “fair use.”
A jury in San Francisco yesterday found that Google, the largest Web-search provider, infringed Oracle’s copyrights for programming tools and nine lines of code. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said at this point Oracle can only seek damages on the nine lines, which by law would be at most $150,000.
“There has been zero finding of liability on copyright, the issue of fair use is still in play,” Alsup said about the 12-member jury’s decision on the programming tools. He ordered the patent phase of the case to begin today; damages will be taken up by the jury in the last phase of the eight-week trial.
Anyone can use copyrighted work without consent of the owner if it advances the public interest by adding something new or functional. Google attorney Robert Van Nest asked Alsup to declare a mistrial, saying the issue of whether the company is liable for infringement is directly linked to the question of whether it was fair use. Alsup gave each side until May 10 to submit arguments on that issue and didn’t say when he’ll rule.
“Google won the battle and it remains to be seen who won the war,” said Brian Love, an intellectual property attorney and teaching fellow at Stanford Law School.
Oracle alleged that Google, based in Mountain View, California, stole copyrights and patents for the Java programming language when it developed the Android operating system for mobile devices, which were released in 2007. Oracle acquired Java when it bought Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2010.
Oracle, the largest maker of database software, is seeking damages as well as a court order preventing Google from distributing Android unless it pays for a license.
“Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case,” Deborah Hellinger, an Oracle spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license.
‘‘Every major commercial enterprise -- except Google -- has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms,’’ she said.
The jury’s findings may not be the last word on infringement. While the panel was asked to decide whether Google infringed parts of Java called application programming interfaces, or APIs, the ultimate decision on whether APIs are covered by copyrights will be made by Alsup later in the case. Alsup told the jury to assume APIs are copyrightable; he can decide later that they aren’t.
Alsup must also rule on Oracle’s request for a judgment in its favor that Google infringed Java copyrights and its copying wasn’t fair use. A ruling for Oracle could set aside the jury’s decision.
‘‘We appreciate the jury’s efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin,” Google spokesman Jim Prosser said in an e-mail. “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.”
The jury found yesterday that Google didn’t infringe the documentation for the 37 APIs at issue. The panel also determined that Google infringed just 1 of 3 Java codes that were in dispute. In addition, jurors concluded that while Google proved that “Sun and/or Oracle” led the company to believe it didn’t need a license for the Java technology, Google didn’t show that it relied on that knowledge when it decided not to seek a license.
The verdict came on the fifth day of deliberations in the trial, which began April 16. The jury sent Alsup seven notes during its discussions with questions, including some about the meaning of “fair use.” A May 3 note said the panel couldn’t reach a unanimous decision. Alsup ordered jurors to continue deliberations, and after learning the panel was still at an impasse, ordered them to deliver a partial verdict.
Java is a free language. Oracle argued that the parts of Java that Google used are covered by copyrights and that the search engine company was required to pay for a license to use the technology.
Google denied infringement, saying it developed Android from scratch and that the Java elements it used aren’t covered by copyrights. Any bits of copied Java in Android constituted fair use because Google gives Android away for free to programmers and it expanded the language’s usefulness by finding a way to build a smartphone operating system with Java, something Sun and Oracle were unable to do.
Oracle argued that the Java copying was for Google’s commercial benefit -- to increase use of Google’s search engine, which generates advertising revenue -- and added nothing new to Java.
The next phase of the case is about two Java patents Oracle alleges were infringed.
The case is Oracle v. Google, 10-3561, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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