A federal jury ruled Wednesday that Google didn’t infringe on Oracle’s patents when the Internet search leader developed its popular Android software for mobile devices.
Wednesday’s verdict comes about two weeks after the same jury, with two additional members, failed to agree on a pivotal issue in Oracle’s copyright-infringement case against Google. As a result, Google Inc. faced maximum damages of only $150,000 – not the hundreds of millions of dollars that Oracle Corp. was seeking.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the jury, skipping the damages phase that had been originally scheduled. Had Oracle been able to pursue damages, confidential documents detailing how much money Google makes from its Android software might have become public.
The outcome ends, for now, a showdown pitting two Silicon Valley titans in a courtroom duel that brought Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Google CEO Larry Page to the witness stand during the 5 1/2-week trial.
TECH TRIAL OF THE CENTURY: Oracle has accused Google of patent infringement over Google’s Android, the mobile OS that now powers more than 300 million smartphones and tablets.
Jan. 27, 2010: Oracle closes deal to buy Sun Microsystems, gets the Java programming language.
Aug. 12: Oracle sues Google in U.S. District Court, says Android infringes on Java.
Sept. 12, 2011: Company CEOs are ordered to attend mediation to settle the lawsuit.
March 27, 2012: In a joint statement, companies say they are hundreds of millions of dollars apart.
April 16: Trial begins. Oracle says Google knew they stole a key piece of tech.
April 17: Google’s opening statements frame the case as Oracle’s response to its own failure to build mobile software.
April 18: Google’s Larry Page returns to the witness stand, looking uncomfortable as he deflected questions about his role.
May 1: Lawyers make closing arguments on the copyright issues. Judge sends case to jury for deliberation.
May 7: In a partial verdict, the jury found that Google infringed on the largest of Oracle’s claims, but it couldn’t agree on whether Google’s use was legally protected “fair use.
In vindicating Google, the jury delivered a humbling setback to Oracle. The world’s leading maker of database software had accused Google of building Android around Oracle’s copyrighted and patented Java programming system. Oracle inherited the rights to Java in a $7.3 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010.
During the copyright phase of the trial, the jury ruled against Google on a key question related to Java’s “application programming interfaces,” or APIs, that provide the blueprints for making much of the software work effectively. Although the jury found that Google infringed on those APIs, it reached an impasse on whether Google was covered under “fair use” protections in U.S. law. The lack of a fair-use determination hobbled Oracle’s ability to extract huge sums from Google.
The jury found that Android infringed on nine lines of Java coding, but the penalty for that violation is confined to statutory damages no higher than $150,000.
In the second phase of the trial, the jury considered Oracle’s allegations that Android violated two Java patents. The jury said Wednesday that Google had violated neither. The patent case was considered to be worth far less to Oracle than the allegations of copyright infringement.
In a statement, Google said Wednesday’s verdict “was a victory not just for Google but the entire Android ecosystem.” Oracle countered with a statement asserting it had “presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java.” Oracle didn’t say whether it intended to appeal the jury’s verdict.
Although Alsup dismissed the jury, the case still has a few potential twists.
Google has filed for a mistrial on the API ruling. Google argues that the law doesn’t allow an infringement finding if the fair use question isn’t answered. If mistrial is granted, the allegations could be re-examined by a new jury.
Alsup also will rule on whether the law even allows APIs to be copyrighted – an issue being closely watched by computer programmers. If Alsup finds APIs can be copyrighted, Oracle could still pursue a portion of Google’s Android profits, but obtaining a large award might still be difficult as long as the fair-use question is unresolved.