Judge denies Oracle's motion to throw out Google's fair use claim

Judge denies Oracle's motion to throw out Google's fair use claim

Summary: Oracle and Google's attorneys battle it out in the face of a potential mistrial on whether or not fair use can be even used as an argument in this lawsuit.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- While Google is trying to push for a mistrial over the first phase of its legal battle with Oracle over intellectual property, there is still a bigger issue at hand: can APIs be copyrighted?

See alsoGoogle points to Sun's SEC filings to defend previous testimony Android chief says he didn’t know about Sun’s patent portfolio

Technically, that issue is for Judge William Alsup to decide, which could change the whole future of this case.

That also plays into the partial verdict that the 12-person jury returned at the U.S. District Court of Northern California on Monday afternoon. It was a bit of a mixed bag because while the jury found that Google infringed upon Oracle's copyrights of the 37 Java APIs implemented on Android, they could not come to a unanimous decision if Google proved that it was a case of fair use or not.

In an afternoon session at the courthouse at which the jury was not present, attorneys for both Oracle and Google debated for two hours about what can be considered an an example of fair use, if fair use is a matter of law, and what can be copyrighted in the first place.

Although he didn't offer an official ruling yet on whether or not APIs are copyrightable, Alsup's line of questioning throughout the hearing hinted that he is leaning towards declaring that they are not.

However, Alsup did deny Oracle's motion for a judgment as a matter of law that fair use can't be claimed in this case. Basically, that means Google still has a shot at winning this on fair use.

Before that ruling came, both sides repeated condensed versions of their arguments from the first two weeks of the trial, which eventually came off looking like last-ditch efforts.

Oracle's lead counsel Michael Jacobs started off by citing precedent cases since 1992 that didn't find fair use as a matter of law. His main point was that Google's use of the 37 Java APIs was not a case of fair use anyway because it was commercial and did not re-purpose the APIs for something new.

Jacobs also reiterated that Google used those 37 packages because they were the most popular.

"Popularity does not allow for infringement," argued Jacobs, "Investment doesn't allow for infringement."

Google attorney Robert Van Nest countered by stating that "commercial use is one factor," and that we have to weigh all the factors that the jury deems appropriate.

Van Nest also fought back against Oracle's creative slant argument in which Jacobs has previously compared writing an API to writing a poem or a song.

"This is a situation where we're talking about computer software, which is purely functional," Van Nest argued.

Soaking all of the information in, Alsup remained steady on the stand even as the lawyers in front of him started to look more agitated -- and possibly nervous -- of where he might be headed in terms of a final ruling.

Alsup conceded that there are at least three out of four factors that defend Google's argument for fair use, which he added "would deny a global win for Oracle on this point." But Alsup also blamed Oracle's legal team because he said they put it to the jury this way.

Jacobs rebutted that if he approved Google's fair use argument, it would be "devastating" to the Java business model.

"If Google can do it, so can the next guy," Jacobs added.

But Alsup continued to demonstrate his understanding of the makeup of the Java packages, remarking that along with names, methods in APIs are not copyrightable because if a developer wants a particular function, there is only one possibility.

"Oracle doesn't have a monopoly on that," Alsup continued. "If you want to have a function, that is the only way to write it."

Jacobs tried to distinguish that Oracle's case is not about any single method or group of methods but rather the combination of elements and the structure, sequence and organization of the Java APIs. To that extent, Jacobs argued, they would be protected by copyright.

Nevertheless, the fair use card is still at play.

In the end, it is still unclear as to how the first phase of the trial will be wrapped up -- if it is at all. The fair use debate could still be sent back to the jury, or phase one could be declared a mistrial. If the latter route pans out, the copyrights phase of the lawsuit would be retried with a new jury.

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Topics: Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Oracle, Security, Smartphones

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26 comments
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  • I never thought in my life, that Java, the language

    we used to love and treasure, will be dragged through the mud, the same way Oracle is doing right now.

    This was the language of the community. This was the language everybody who hated Microsoft used. And now, it's being used as a weapon against Open source community.

    Sad indeed. Oracle, F.
    tatiGmail
    • Now it all makes sense

      Java -- the language that makes easy things difficult

      The language that makes users cringe whenever they see Java loading when trying to view a webpage, or use an in-house application.

      The language that makes sysadmins cringe as they worry about security.

      The language that tries to trick users into installing crapware every time the Java runtime needs updating.

      Sure Java was an innovation at the time and Gosling is a great guy, but now we see that the big motivation behind Java was just to "stick it to M$".

      So it is no wonder that improvements to Java are bogged down by committees, led by people who love to hear themselves speak.

      So as I go to work and use those wonderful in-house java apps, with their 1990's style GUI's and myriad runtime requirements, I am thankful to the "community" for their selfless devotion to bringing down M$.
      otaddy
      • Java as a web plugin may have been a poor idea...

        ...and a poor experience, but desktop and server usage is another kettle of fish.
        30otnix
    • PS: This doesnt mean Im rooting for Oracle either

      Nor are they trying to use Java as a weapon against open source software.

      They will only go after you if you are profiting from Java!
      otaddy
      • And most developers do profit.

        We get paid salaries to write software whether for internal or external corporate uses. Copyrighting API's will cause havoc in the IT world.
        fldbryan@...
  • Go Oracle!

    Every major attack on open source to date has back fired against the attacker in some delightful way. This time is likely to be no exception. Proprietary vendors are spending tons of cash trying to reign in open source technologies by use of the courts. They are getting very little for the amount of money they are spending. Their millions are barely getting them pocket change. That is not likely to change a whole lot in the future. And to think that they could be investing all of this capital into new innovative technologies instead. What a waste.
    George Mitchell
  • Oracle's Chances of Hitting the Jackpot at End of Rainbow are Sunk!!!

    The two lowly turnip patents (which Oracle's Damages expert says aren't worth much) will take all the squeezing Boies, Jacobs Legal Expertise can muster to get even a few Million Dollars for Oracle and don't expect 9 lines of TimSort to get more than just thousands of dollars! ka-ching ka-ching..... as money is seen flowing out of Oracle instead of in. Which this legal team most likely didn't even earn back the cost of Oracle to pay them to take this case to trial on!

    And......what ever happened to all those BILLIONS of DOLLARS Oracle had their sights set on from Google Android? ;-P

    Oracle? ....it's not too late to take Google up on their offer to share in revenues and just license the use of the Java Name and Coffee Cup Logo to Google and then you can tell everybody you have one more licensee. The only thing it'll hurt is your pride and arrogance!

    Google Android has already helped bring some good publicity to Java and all you've brought is your Greed and Arrogance to it! .....otherwise the Java Community is more likely to die, than you saving it!!! ....remember your good buddy at Microsoft has always claimed "Developers Developers Developers" while doing his Monkey Boy dance..... the very same thing you'll be losing if you take this much further. Is it really worth it? o_O I think not!
    KronJohn
    • I thought Android wasnt Java?

      So how could it bring publicity to it?

      Likewise, I dont see Linux mentioned anywhere either--only in the tech blogs--so I dont see Android bringing publicity to linux either.

      And how come my Android Apps dont work easily on desktop Linux?
      otaddy
      • Because you don't know what you're talking about

        _
        Queuecumber
      • ok, thanks! That makes sense.

        @Queuecumber
        otaddy
      • Publicity.

        I'm assuming he means publicity for the Java language and tools among developers, not the VM among consumers.

        I agree that Linux isn't getting much publicity out of this. But it never got much out of Tivo and all the other commonly used hardware and systems that run on Linux that nobody knows about.

        Android Apps require the Android VM (Dalvik) which isn't included in most (if any?) Linux distros.
        30otnix
  • well done

    next rule that apis are not copyrightable and send oracle home, tail between the legs.
    The Linux Geek
    • Not able to copyright APIs

      Denying that APIs can have copyright (protection) will hurt many, including Google -- who too expect that others would not copy their APIs.

      In this court case, both Oracle and Google are losers. Judge Alsup rightfully suggested they settle out of court.
      danbi
  • business model

    Jacobs rebutted that if he approved Google???s fair use argument, it would be ???devastating??? to the Java business model.

    We have to win, because that's what we came up with for a business model. Really? That's your reason? No law, no right or wrong on merits.....but we need to win because that's how we want to do busines??? ROFLMAO
    Why would anyone want to deal with a company (Oracle) that thinks this delusionally?
    dabbsil
    • Ironically...

      That's their counterargument to Google who points out that blocking API arbitrarily would damage *their* business model.
      TheWerewolf
    • Aggressive

      Oracle is very aggressive with their business model and they think they can ride Android's coattails so they will try even if they legally fail in the end.
      DonRupertBitByte
  • "If Google can do it..."

    [quote]If Google can do it, so can the next guy[/quote]
    Do [i]what[/i], exactly? Write and maintain over 15 million lines of code? Yeah, I bet companies are just falling over themselves at the chance of doing just that!
    Zogg
  • No references to Florian?

    Oh, he will be hurt.... I remember him being cited left and right when he was predicting Google would have to pay billions to Oracle.
    kirovs@...
    • And I still remember when Groklaw said B&N would bring down M$

      and save Android!
      otaddy
      • LOL

        LOL, in case you hadn't noticed: Microsoft just paid B&N $300,000,000.00. How confident of their patents could Microsoft possibly be if they just paid the defedant in their patent case $300 large to write a version of the Nook reading App for Windows 8 while simultaneously dropping the patent infringment case?
        dsf3g