April 16, 2012
Oracle and Google Square Off In Billion-Dollar Trial Over Free Code
US District Judge William Alsup is calling a $1 billion conflict between Silicon Valley giants, “the World Series” of high-tech law cases. Google and Oracle are squaring off today for the start of their high-stakes patent and copyright feud with Judge Alsup in the role of umpire.
Oracle, a business software provider and current developer of Java, is claiming Google´s Android system infringes intellectual property rights relating to the programming language, writes Leo Kelion, Technology reporter for BBC News. Oracle acquired the Java language after it took over original creators Sun Microsystems in 2009.
Java is used by many business applications as well as other software, such as video game platforms. Oracle argues that by using its intellectual property, and then giving Android away for free, Google undermined the possibility of it licensing Java to mobile phone makers.
“Because Android exploits Java but is not fully compatible with it, Android represents Sun´s, and now Oracle´s, nightmare: an incompatible forking of the Java platform, which undermines the fundamental ℠write once, run anywhere´ premise of Java that is so critical to its value and appeal.”
Google´s use of Java is not in contention, Java is free for anyone to use without license. What is in dispute is the Android-maker´s use of 37 APIs (application programming interfaces) which allow developers to write Java-compatible code.
APIs allow different parts of a program to communicate together as well as letting one application share content with another. “APIs are the glue that allows computer programs to talk to each other - in this case Android apps use them to access the phone´s features like its screen and memory,” Dan Crow, chief technology officer at Songkick and a former Google tech team leader, told Kelion.
“If Oracle wins the case and APIs are held to be copyrighted, then in theory, virtually every application - on Android, Mac OS, Windows, iPhone or any other platform - has to be at least re-released under new license terms,” Crow added.
“This could result in many applications being withdrawn until their legality is resolved.”
Judge Alsup, who has a reputation as an intellectual heavyweight, at one point ordered high-level settlement talks in a last-ditch attempt to avoid this week´s trial. The order later forced the two companies´ powerful chieftains, Larry Ellison and Larry Page, to meet personally. However the two executives could not settle their differences, reports Howard Mintz of Silicon Valley´s Mercury News.
“He can be out-of-the-box,” said Matt Borden, a former law clerk. “But it´s so intellectually stimulating. This is a guy who is thinking a million miles an hour all of the time.”
In fact, he has thus far been vintage Alsup in the Oracle-Google case, often coming up with novel ways to shape such an epic trial. At one point, he took the unusual step of enlisting an independent expert to evaluate the damages at stake after questioning Oracle´s estimates.
Alsup graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for the late US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and worked in the US Solicitor General´s Office during the Carter administration and wound up at powerhouse Bay Area law firm Morrison & Foerster before he was tapped for the judgeship.
He will have ample opportunity to make crucial calls in the Google-Oracle trial. Lawyers who have been before him say he´s the right umpire.
“(He) is careful and conscientious,” said K.A.D. Camara, who represented a tech company in a patent feud with Apple. “He has, of course, presided over many technology cases. It´s good for the law that the (Oracle) case was assigned to him.”