Google Moves For Mistrial In Legal Battle With Oracle
May 10, 2012

Google Moves For Mistrial In Legal Battle With Oracle

Google´s lead attorney filed a motion on Tuesday asking the U.S. District Judge overseeing its copyright and patent trial with Oracle to declare a mistrial.

The move was driven by a mixed verdict delivered on Monday in the copyright phase of the trial.  The jury found that Google had violated Oracle´s copyrights in using 37 of Java´s “application programming interfaces,” or APIs, when it developed the Android mobile operating system.  However, it was deadlocked on whether this use was protected under the ℠fair-use´ provision of U.S. copyright law.

Google's legal team indicated shortly after the verdict was delivered that they would move for a mistrial.

The legal battle from a lawsuit Oracle filed against Google in 2010, in which it accused the Internet search giant of stealing Java intellectual property when it created Android.  Oracle argued that it was owed millions of dollars in damages and a portion of Android´s profits.

Oracle owns Java through its 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

On Tuesday, Google´s lawyers formally requested a new trial, saying that accepting the jury´s finding of infringement and retrying only the ℠fair use´ issue violates the company´s constitutional trial rights.

"Although the jury concluded that Oracle had proven that Google infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of the copyrighted works, the jury did not reach a unanimous verdict as to whether Google had proven the affirmative defense of fair use," Google said in its filing made late Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

"Under settled Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit law, the jury´s failure to reach a verdict concerning both halves of this indivisible question requires a new trial concerning both questions."

Citing the case of Gasoline Products Co. v. Champlin Refining Co., Google´s lead attorney, Robert Van Nest, argued that under the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution a court cannot hold a partial retrial unless the issue to be retried is sufficiently "distinct and separable" from the issues decided by the first jury.  The same amendment, he said, requires that jury verdicts in federal court be unanimous.

Oracle acknowledged Google´s request for a mistrial, but proposed that the court rule on whether or not Google's actions qualify as ℠fair use´, considering the cost and time required for a retrial.  Lawyers for the company also repeated their request for a share of Android´s profits and other damages if ℠fair use´ is not found.

But Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the case, denied the request to rule on whether Google's use of Java fell outside the provisions of ℠fair use´, saying "it wouldn't be fair" given the evidence introduced during the trial.

Judge Alsup had said on Monday that Oracle's claim for "infringer's profits" bordered on the ridiculous.

Google also filed a motion on Tuesday contesting Oracle's claim that the court should reject Google's attempt to challenge Oracle's ownership of the copyrights at issue in the case.

According to the filing, Google contends the issue of ownership is not settled because Oracle has not shown that it owns a copyright to Java as a collective work, rather than as a single work.

In its filing, Google said that Oracle´s claim was "as if Tolstoy argued that his copyright rights in War & Peace were violated by copying a dozen sentences from the novel because those sentences were individual works.”

As Google awaits rulings on its motions, the high-profile case continued on Wednesday, with both sides presenting evidence and testimony in the patent phase of the trial.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Oracle America, Inc. v. Google Inc., 10-3561.

Selected case documents and filings can be viewed here.