Jury strikes a blow against software patents

Jury strikes a blow against software patents

Summary: Ding, dong, the patent witch is dead! Well, maybe not dead, but at least melting a bit.


Earlier today, a California jury cleared Google of all claims of patent infringement brought by Oracle. The trial, which had been in its 23rd day, concluded with a unanimous decision that Android did not infringe on six claims in U.S. Patent RE38,104 as well as two claims in U.S. Patent number 6,061,520. In the space of two weeks, Oracle's visions (some would say hallucinations) of up to $6 billion in damages have gone up in smoke.

Read: More Oracle v. Google news

Linux creator Linus Torvalds called the suit "idiotic" but predicted Oracle would "come out posturing and talk about how they’ll be vindicated, and pay lawyers to take it to the next level of idiocy.” The good news, though, is that this ruling has removed one of the darkest clouds hanging over Google and Android. Oracle can appeal, but their prospects don't look good.

After the trial, Joe Mullin at Ars Technica did an interesting interview with the jury foreman (Greg Thompson) that indicates Oracle "wasn't even close" to proving their case against Google in the patent phase of the trial, or even in the earlier copyright phase:

After the copyright verdict, there had been some speculation around the Web that because the jury found that Google infringed copyright—but split on fair use—it was basically a pro-Oracle jury with one or two holdouts sticking up for Google. Talking to Thompson, it quickly became clear that wasn't the case at all. A majority of jurors favored Google's argument from the start, and the holdouts—primarily Thompson himself—were a beleaguered few favoring Oracle. At one point during the copyright phase, in fact, Thompson said he was the lone holdout. At the end, he swung a couple more jurors to his side, but they were still a distinct minority.

There is still an unsettled copyright question, but even in the unfortunate event that the judge ruled against Google on that part, we're only talking about 9 lines of code out of millions. Lines which were immediately removed from the Android source when somebody pointed them out.

I find it refreshing that in this trial, both the Judge and jury proved to be much smarter than the lawyers. Thompson and others on the jury asked pretty good questions, especially considering most had no technical background at all. The judge (the Hon. William Alsup) revealed he was something of a developer himself and scoffed at some of Oracle's arguments about the mysterious invention known as the "range check". If you ask me, all software patent trials should be held in California from now on instead of East Texas.

Topics: Apps, Software, Software Development

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • oracle must go home

    tail between the legs and apologise to Google and foss.
    The Linux Geek
  • The rammifications for Microsoft are more dire...

    With Android now free to continue blocking Windows on the mobile platform, Microsoft is in a very hard place. Oracle should make nice and become the database of choice for Android and iOS, shutting out Microsoft's own database offering. In any event, with Android and iOS now firmly in control of the next gen operating system, only about six people will ever see Windows 8.

    Did anyone notice that there will be an Android graphics tablet from NVidia with 4 processors that can run engineering applications like 3D modeling? Hot diggedy dog, you thought PC sales were soft now, just wait!
    Tony Burzio
    • Okay...

      Only "six" people will ever see Windows 8? Oracle should become the database of choice for tablets? Do you have any idea what you're talking about? Oracle's DB is insanely expensive and they aren't going to drop pricing for tablets. Then again neither will MS as there isn't any reason to run DB software on a tablet.

      And sure, the next Tegra will be able to handle some 3D modeling. But I can't even begin to imagine running 3D Studio or CAD on a tablet... I think you've completely lost your mind.
      • I wonder

        how much a Catia license would cost on a tablet? Not that I would want to run it there anyhow with the lack of screen space.
    • Android isnt blocking Windows on mobile platforms. Windows is on all mobile

      platforms. And MS doesnt have an android or ios database and isnt trying to make one. I would hardly call MS position dire. They are poised to take a good chunk of mobile market share with W8/WP8 and they make almost a $1B a year from IP licenses to android oems in the mean time. And they have like 8 other $1B+ businesses they run as well. And as for android/ios being firmly in control of the next gen operating system thats just laughable. They only thing they have any significant share of is mobile devices and those os's change all the time. Just like only 5 years ago in 2007 they had none of it, someone else with none of it now will have a big chunk of it in the future. People change mobile devices pretty frequently and they take whatever os their mobile device comes with. Way less than one hundredth of one percent of android os buyers bought the device they did because it had android on it. They only have android because it happened to be on there and they dont even know what an os is.
      Johnny Vegas
      • MS is done!

        @ Johnny Vegas,
        There are several things you fail to mention during your MS speech.
        1.they make almost a $1B a year from IP licenses to android oems.
        A)They are attack/bullying OEM instead of going after Google themself; But like the sneaky coward they are, they are allowing others (MOSIAD-Orcale-Apple) to go to court against Google to prevent from getting slaughter in Court.

        2.And as for android/ios being firmly in control of the next gen operating system thats just laughable.
        A) Please use your Bing Browser to find out who has the market share; in 5-10 years MS will be irrevelating just Like Yahoo and AOL.

        3.Way less than one hundredth of one percent of android os buyers bought the device they did because it had android on it. They only have android because it happened to be on there and they dont even know what an os is. .
        A) ATT offer Nokia w/Windows OS, ask them which OS they sell the most of; So yes, people know exactly what they are buying when they pick out a phone.
        Marty Kaan
    • Wrong topic?

      Not that databases were involved here (directly), but are you confusing SQLite with server-grade database engines?
  • The only way out for HP...

    ...is to buy Oracle. Sure, it's expensive, but it would put IBM in a bind and shut out Microsoft for a while. Might not work, but it'd be a whopper of a Hail Mary pass!
    Tony Burzio
  • Juy strikes blow against.... What?

    I would not be so quick to conclude that because OJ was found not guilty, it is now OK to run around murdering people.
    Robert Hahn

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  • all trials in East Texas

    And if you ask me, I think all articles representing ZDNet should be written by people who are not snobbishly biased a-holes.
    • Last time I checked

      everyone in this country and in most parts of the world are allowed to not read something if they don't want to. Exercise your rights, stop reading ZDNet if it bothers you that much and in so doing, spare the rest of us who can look at the content of article and decide with which opinions we are in agreement and which ones we are not, without resorting to name calling of the authors with whom we disagree.

      Oh, and by the way, no body asked you.
    • Dhendrickson, if you had done your homework,

      you might just have understood that the reference to trials in East Texas had nothing whatever to do with snobbery, but rather with the fact that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has long been notorious for granting judgements in favour of patent trolls, which is why many suits without any real connection to East Texas were filed there. From what I understand, however, the situation may be changing, as in the recent judgement dismissing the claims by Eolas Technologies (partnering with the University of California [sic] !) to ownership of technology allowing access to the interactive web (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/02/interactive-web-patent/). So perhaps it will, indeed, become possible to hold software patent trials even in East Texas, at least until such time that legislation is put into place at the federal level which embodies the obvious fact that software (mathematical algorithms) is not patentable. Then, perhaps, companies will be forced to compete on the quality (and price) of their products, rather than on the quality and price of their lawyers....

  • All this really does is re-affirm how badly the system is broken

    Copyright protects the words you use - which is programming parlance for "code" but the programming language one chooses changes not just the "words" but also the "methodology" for accomplishing the task at hand, even if the outcome is identical. This is what opened the door for Linux (and before Linux, FreeBSD - functionally identical to 4.3BSD but completely free of copyrighted AT&T source code).

    Patents are another matter. Patents protect the methodology used to accomplish a task. Unfortunately, the boundaries have become skewed and often patents are used to protect IDEAS not methodologies.

    Patent law should not be able to protect the IDEA of a mousetrap (preventing someone from making a BETTER one) but it should be able to protect someone who catches the mouse using a particular methodology.

    Frankly, the idea of selecting a jury with no experience in the field in question strikes me as denying the plaintiff AND the defendant of a hearing before a jury of their peers.

    At the very least, the jurors' personal background should not come into play, as long as they are perceived to be impartial. Ignorant jurors often lead to ignorant verdicts.
    M Wagner
    • Some confusion about what a patent is and

      I am afraid your assertion that patents do not protect ideas is wrong. In your mousetrap example, someone who builds a mousetrap and a patent is granted for it has been granted exclusive property rights to the implementation of the idea. If someone adds an improvement to it and gets a patent for the improvement, they may still not produce their improved mousetrap unless they are granted a license by the original mousetrap patent holder.
      The article mis-states that it strikes a blow against software patents. Software patents are part of settled case law in the US and are enforcable under law.
      Please read these Wikipedia articles to inform yourself about patents, copyrights and software patents.
      • Nope

        Read carefully, he said a better mousetrap not an improvement on the original. The idea is catching mice, one methodology is the mousetrap we all think of. If you come up with a way to catch mice that uses a different methodology, you owe the patent holder for the other mousetrap nothing.
      • no...

        a patent for mousetrap that slings a metal string to break mouses neck should not be patent for mousetraps in general - anyone should be able to create freely a mousetrap that drops a cage on top of mouse, and patent that mouse trap method because it only shares the *idea* of mouse trap, not the method of "trapping the mouse".

        Software patents usually/often patent the idea of doing something, not a particular method of doing it - and this is wrong. Though IMHO software patents not clearly tied to apparatus should not be allowed at all anyway.
    • Stroke me as odd too...

      The thing about jury with no understanding of the matter at hand is odd to me too... One of the "only in USA" things perhaps?
      I personally think that jurors' background *should* come into play - in complete opposite way, I mean the jurors absolutely *should* have understanding of matter they are to judge people/companies about - anything else is just opposite of real justice!
  • A blow against Oracle, not patents

    All that happened is that the jury stated that Google did not violate the patents. They did not, and could not, rule on the validity of those patents, or of software patents in general. Let's not get too excited.
  • Software patents are absurd.

    I think that software patents are generally bull. Most of the time, you put 10 good software engineers in a room and confront them with a problem, and they'll come up with the same answer. Software patents tend to be awarded based on who encounters a problem first, not some brilliancy that deserves protection.

    Here's an analogy for you. You're a chef working on a new dish. You come up with a brilliant combination of (say) apricots and pickles that wows your patrons. Do you patent it? In my opinion, that would be far worthier of a patent than the idea that you could put meta data in a document. It happens because techie types can make people think something is complicated when really, to the right audience, it's obvious (and hence by the constitution shouldn't be patentable).