Google kicks Oracle in its patent teeth

Oracle loses its patent claims and so Google has almost completely defeated Oracle in its vain attempts to squeeze an intellectual property payoff from Google and Android.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The jury has ruled, and Oracle has lost.

The jury has ruled, and Oracle has lost.

I get to say I was right again. First, I told you so when I said the Facebook IPO was dead in the water and now I get to say I was right about Oracle's Java patent claims being next to worthless in its case against Google and Android. Oracle vs. Google has been a dead lawsuit walking all along, and now as I suspected it would, the jury has ruled that Google didn't infringe on Oracle's patents. Game, set, and almost the match to Google.

To be exact, the U.S. District Court of Northern California jury ruled unanimously that Google did not infringe on six claims in U.S. Patent RE38,104 as two claims in U.S. Patent number 6,061,520.

Not mind you, that it would have mattered much had the jury ruled the other way. As Oracle's own expert, Boston University professor Iain Cockburn had said earlier, even if Google were found guilty on all those counts, Oracle would had won maximum damages of $32.3-million. Oracle may have spent more than that every month keeping this case going.

After the verdict, Judge William Alsup dismissed the jurors, and said he'd be deciding on the related application programming interface (API) copyright issue next week. I find it highly unlikely that he'll rule that APIs can be copyrighted.

If Alsup does rule that APIs can't be copyrighted that leaves Oracle with nine, count 'em, nine lines of copyrighted code in the tens of millions of lines of Android. Those lines are now long gone. Actually, those miserable nine lines are even less impressive than they sound.

During the trial, Alsup said that he had learned how to write enough code leading him to believe that anyone could have written those nine lines of code. As Alsup told Oracle counsel David Boies, "The idea that somebody copied that in order to get to market faster when it would be just as fast to write it - it was an accident that it got in there. You're one of the best lawyers in America. How could you even make that argument?"

Given that comment, I don't see any way Oracle will get a thin dime from those few lines of code.

So what will all this mean? First, it's not the end. Oracle will appeal. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison doesn't know the meaning of the word "Quit." I don't see any chance though that any higher courts will give Oracle's arguments any credence.

As Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, observed on Google+, "Prediction: instead of Oracle coming out and admitting they were morons about their idiotic suit against Android, they'll come out posturing and talk about how they'll be vindicated, and pay lawyers to take it to the next level of idiocy." Alas, he's right.

Looking beyond the courtroom, unless, Alsup rules that APIs can be copyrighted, there shouldn't be any real effect on open-source programming in general or Android programming in specific. For all practical purposes, Oracle has failed completely.

At the same time, Oracle, which, believe it or not, is an open-source company in many ways with its MySQL database and its own house-brand of Linux, continues to lose what respect it has left in the open-source community. Most of Sun's open-source leadership left Oracle immediately after the takeover; Oracle gave OpenOffice away to Apache; and long before that, Oracle tossed OpenSolaris to the roadside. As Torvalds comment shows, Open-source developers are not happy with Oracle.

Java developers in turn have never been happy with first Oracle's lawsuit or its management of Java. Java has been slowly declining in popularity for years. While neither this case not its verdict will have a direct effect on developers, I do see it as giving open-source and Java developers even more reasons to grow ever more wary of Oracle and its products.

Related Stories:

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Oracle vs. Google: Dead lawsuit walking

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