Judge: Oracle must cut Google damages claim

Saying Oracle's expert witness 'overreached' when estimating damages, the court tells the company to reduce its claims from $2.6bn to around $100m in its patent suit against Google's Android

A judge has told Oracle to lower the amount it has claimed in damages from Google over alleged infringement of Java patents in Android.

Judge William Alsup, "largely" granted Google permission to exclude a damages report and the accompanying testimony of Iain Cockburn, an expert witness for Oracle, according to a court filing on Friday.

In outlining his decision, Alsup said that Cockburn had "overreached in multiple ways" in his estimates. The Oracle expert put the fair market value of a Java licence for Android at as much as $6.1bn (£3.74bn) and said the likely result of negotiation between the two companies would have been a royalty payment of about $2.6bn.

"The patent owner here simply served a report that overreached in multiple ways — each and every overreach compounding damages ever higher into the billions — evidently with the goal of seeing how much it could get away with," Alsup said in the filing in a Northern California district court.

He also noted that Cockburn's analysis did not focus on the patents in the dispute, but used 'Java' and 'Android' on a large scale. This approach was "defective", he ruled, as Oracle has not given grounds for equating its patent claims with all of those technologies.

The judge instead suggested an alternative starting point for a "hypothetical negotiation" total of damages at $100m, which allows for future adjustments. Many of the adjustments outlined by the judge could see that figure fall further, according to the filing.

Latest twist

Alsup's order is the latest twist in a lawsuit filed in August by Oracle claiming that Google's mobile operating system infringes on its copyright and patents related to Java, which the enterprise software maker picked up in its acquisition of Sun. Oracle's suit focuses on the software development kit (SDK) for the Android software stack and its use of the Dalvik virtual machine, which supports Java-scripted apps.

In the filing, the judge noted the court had made a mistake in setting an earlier-than-usual deadline for a damages report, in an attempt to avoid a delay to the trial. This is what led the expert to overreach, according to Alsup.

Oracle can now submit an amended report. However, the judge warned that if it was similarly overreaching, the report could be excluded completely without the option to try again.

In a separately filed letter, Oracle proposed adjustment from the $100m figure based on a 'network effects' theory. This theory suggests that Android helps to maintain Google's dominance of the search market. Judge Alsup allowed the theory in principle, but warned the company to keep it relevant.

"Any non-mobile business that [Oracle] seeks to account for in its damage report must be supported by the evidence and not be purely speculative," he said.

Oracle may now struggle to get a multi-billion dollar settlement based on damages alone, Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign, argued in a blog post on Friday.

"Instead, the profitability of this for Oracle may now depend mostly on the question of whether or not the court grants an injunction," Mueller wrote. "With an injunction, Oracle would have the leverage to negotiate with Google a licence deal that could result in a very high per-unit royalty."

Despite the need for a new damages report, Alsup indicated that he was unwilling to let the scheduled date of the court hearing slip. "The court is yet unwilling to give up on the October trial date," he said in the filing.

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