Jury: Google infringed Java copyright, but we’re not sure it’s worth a $1 billion penalty

May 8, 2012
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Well, who can honestly say that they didn’t see this one coming? In the case of Oracle vs Java, the jury has returned a mixed verdict that will not please either of the sides. Although the jury has found Google to be in the wrong by infringing Oracle-owned Java copyrights, a unanimous decision couldn’t be reached on whether Google’s use of the Java APIs can be considered ‘fair use’ or not.

Judge William Alsup, who oversees the case, said that the jury’s decision to fault Google’s use of the nine lines of the “rangeCheck” code (which are identical to Java code) will be of little help in determining the victor if it fails to conclude on the issue of fair use. Since the deadlock between the jury couldn’t be broken, even after the jurors received more deliberation time over the weekend, the judge decided to move on with the next stage of the trial.

There were four questions that the team of jurors, which consists of five men and seven women, had to answer. Two of the questions were whether or not Google had infringed Oracle documentation copyrights – it’s a no for this one – and whether the copying of code was significant enough to warrant a full-on actionable infringement. The latter is the question upon which the jury can’t seem to decide.

The partial verdict means that Google won’t have to give in to Oracle’s demand to pay $1 billion in damages, since the infringement might still be considered a minor one. Moving away from Oracle’s initial stance of demanding just statutory damages, the company’s legal team now says that Oracle is entitled to a portion of Android profits, as a result of the infringement of those nine lines of code.

Responding to the decision, Google said that “fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin.” While Google looks forward to the decision of whether Java APIs are copyrightable or not, the search giant is certain that it will prevail. Given the result, Google has filed for a mistrial and a hearing of both sides is set to take place on May 10.

Meanwhile, Oracle is convinced that “the overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java’s central write once run anywhere principle.”

The trial will now focus on the alleged violation by Google of another two Java patents. Bear in mind that the jury’s decision will only be used as deliberation points for the judge and the ruling will ultimately be issued by him.

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