Could Google’s Victory over Oracle be Short Lived?

In what has shaped up to be the techie trial of the decade, the suit brought on by Oracle against Google for infringement upon their Java patents for use in the Android platform has reached its crescendo and is nearing the endpoint.  The CEO’s of both Oracle and Google have taken the stand, with Oracle’s CEO testifying that executives from Google knew that they were infringing upon Java’s patents, with Oracle’s lawyers even presenting e-mails between Google co-founder Larry Page and Android chief Andy Rubin as proof of Google’s guilt.

Oracle and Google have the distinction of being in the longest civil case that the judge, the Honorable Judge William Alsup has ever presided over in the patent infringement case Oracle has brought against Google.  The end of the saga is almost at a close, with the jury portion of it complete finding that “the search giant did not infringe upon Oracle’s patents with Android,” as reported on by Bryan Bishop and published in The Washington Post.

Although Google was found not to have been infringing upon Oracle’s patents, RE38,104 and 6,061,520, the jury did come to the conclusion that Android did in fact infringe upon 37 Java API’s, yet without an unanimous verdict on whether they’re covered under fair use, this falls moot at the moment.  The jury did find Google infringed on one other copyright count, the usage of nine lines of rangeCheck code with Judge Alsup ruling Google infringed upon Oracle by using eight Java test files in Android.  While the work of the jury is now complete, the judge is still going to be busy working on the case.

Judge Alsup is going to have to decide if API’s are protected by copyright  and had requested briefs from the lawyers of both sides with his final determination to be made at a later date.  If Aslup determines that the SSO is not covered under copyright law Oracle will receive up to $150,000 per infringement, if he rules they are covered under copyright law another trial or an appeals court (regardless of how he rules, it is almost certain to be appealed by either company) will be tasked with determining the liability of Google.

The war isn’t over

Yet, this is not the end of the battle, nor the starting call for the potential ramifications if Oracle is successful in their ability to copyright APIs, which the Free Software Foundation has said would be, “a stake through the heart of the open source community.”  The Free Software Foundation obviously is looking out for its own interests, as so eloquently published in a statement by Executive Director, John Sullivan:

“Were it grounded in reality, Oracle’s claim that copyright law gives them proprietary control over any software that uses a particular functional API would be terrible for free software and programmers everywhere.  It is an unethical and greedy interpretation created with the express purpose of subjugating as many computer users as possible…”

In terms of this case, Judge Alsup ordered the jury to determine Google’s guilt by assuming that APIs are protected by copyright and he will decide later if they are, or are not.  Regardless of the outcome, it certainly will go to appeal, with Oracle decrying Google’s infringement upon its patents, and with Google, backed by such organizations as the Free Software Foundation, arguing that such information should be available to all and that it’s usage of the API’s is in fact fair use.  While the jury part of this trial is over, there are still many hurdles facing both Google and Oracle before a final decision is rendered, liabilities defined, and new guidelines set.