Google’s Take From Android Pegged by Oracle at $42 Billion

  • Jury told by Oracle lawyer of search engine firm's `short cut
  • Alphabet's Schmidt called to stand to defend use of Java code

Google has earned $42 billion in revenue and $21 billion in profit from more than 3 billion activations of Android-based smartphones, Oracle Corp. told jurors as it pursues its claim for a share of that action.

Each of those activations relied on using the database maker’s Java programming language without a license, Oracle lawyer Peter A. Bicks said in opening arguments Tuesday at a trial. Larry Ellison’s company is seeking $9.3 billion in damages.

Google “took a short cut and it was at Oracle’s expense," Bicks told the jury in San Francisco federal court. "When Google did that they broke a very basic rule -- you do not take somebody’s property without permission and use it for your own benefit. That’s what this case is about. Google took Oracle’s property, and with it Oracle’s opportunities. That’s the story I want to talk to you about now."

Besides the potential for one of the largest jury verdicts in U.S. history, a win for Oracle could change how software is protected and licensed.

The jury of eight women and two men will weigh whether Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights for the Java code without consent in 2006 to develop Android, the operating system used in 80 percent of the world’s mobile devices. Witnesses include Alphabet Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, who took the stand Tuesday, and jurors may also hear from Oracle founder Ellison in videotaped testimony.

Second Trial

It’s the second time the case has gone to trial. In 2012, a previous jury concluded Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights, but was deadlocked on whether its use was justified under the legal doctrine of fair use. The U.S. Supreme court declined last year to intervene in the case, leaving in place a federal appeals court ruling that the Java coding at issue is copyrightable, and setting the stage for the new trial.

Oracle claims Google infringed copyrights covering 37 Java application programming interfaces, or APIs -- the critical shortcuts that allow developers to write programs to work across software platforms.

Bicks told jurors that the APIs are “at the heart of what made Java so valuable,” describing them to jurors as “bundles of pre-written code” that can be used to write applications and programs. Though Sun Microsystems developed Java an “open source” language before Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, a license was required to take the code and change it, he said.

Google’s lawyer, Robert Van Nest, began his arguments by telling jurors that Java is "open and free for anyone to use.” He drew a distinction between the “labels,” or headers, of the APIs and their “implementing code,” which performs the task a programmer wants, and explained how Google’s use of the APIs transformed the code into something new, which he said is fair under the law because it wasn’t mere copying.

“It’s only the labels that are accused of anything here,” he said. “Android is a brand new use for these Java APIs.”

The case is Oracle America Inc. v. Google Inc., 10-cv-03561, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

(An earlier version of this story corrected the number of activations in the lead)

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