In an epic digital dust up that could affect the way Silicon Valley innovates, software giant Oracle this week is once again going after Google in a federal courtroom in San Francisco, accusing the search giant of using parts of its Java software without permission.
The trial before U.S. District Judge William Alsup, which started Monday with jury selection and is expected to last several weeks, is just the latest chapter in a high-stakes, six-year legal battle between the two valley behemoths over the disputed software, which Google used to build its Android mobile operating system. Big bucks are at stake — an expert witness using estimated profits from Android stated in court documents that Google could be on the hook for nearly $9 billion in damages if it loses, though Google said that “makes no sense.”
The two companies disagree over whether Google’s use of Java code was proper and whether the code should have been licensed from Sun Microsystems, the company that created Java and that Oracle bought in 2010. In its defense, Google claims it was protected by the “fair use” doctrine, which would allow the Mountain View search giant to freely harness small amounts of copyrighted material.
That fair use question is what the jury of eight women and two men selected Monday afternoon must decide. They are expected to hear testimony from Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, along with that of expert witnesses.
Both sides argue they are protecting software innovation. On a broader scale, some observers say a win by Oracle could set a dangerous precedent that would increase the cost of doing business for many tech companies, as well as boost Oracle’s leverage and pricing power over any app developer writing code for Android smartphones. Critics say in numerous legal briefs that a courtroom victory by Oracle could hurt innovation in Silicon Valley by giving the company an outsized role in determining how smaller startups create their products.
But Redwood City-based Oracle insists that letting Google access Java for free would discourage software companies from innovating. Google counters that making it cough up a big fine and licensing fees would dampen the very innovation that Silicon Valley thrives on, hampering programmers in their efforts to use code that helps various apps and computer programs talk with one another as Java has done.
“In general, this boils down to the fair-use clause and whether Google is stealing or not, but our sense is there’s a high probability that Google wins and you have status quo,” said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners, which owns shares in Alphabet, Google’s parent company. “And that would mean minimal impact to Google’s stock.”
Should Google lose, Bailey says “the best case for it would be minimal damages of “between zero and $5 billion.” But he said Google could also face an ongoing 10 percent royalty charge if it lost in court but had no other option other than to continue using the Java code, known as application program interfaces, or APIs, that runs its Android operating system.
The appearance of the two tech giants in his courtroom will provide a bit of déjà vu for Alsup, who in a previous trial in 2012 ruled that the software could not be copyrighted. But on appeal, a federal court reversed the ruling, finding that Oracle was entitled to copyright protection. Oracle also seeks an injunction against Google to stop it from using Java in Android going forward, but that would have to be issued by a judge and most legal observers doubt that would ever happen.
“The jury will have to consider the hardships on both parties and their effect on the public interest,” said Tyler Ochoa, a law professor at Santa Clara University. “I think there’s a possibility that the court would be sympathetic to Google, but we’re a long way from there at this point.’
Ochoa, who was one of the academics who filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to hear the case and said Alsup was right when he ruled that Java should not be protected by copyright, believes Google should prevail in the current trial.
“But if they lose the fair-use argument,” he said, “you potentially could see a revival of software copyrights being used as a tool by lawyers for all sorts of companies going after their competitors.”
And even if Google may have an edge in the case, said Ochoa, “you now have an entirely new legal team that’s likely to present Oracle’s case differently based on what happened in the first case. (Source mercurynews)