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08 May 2012, 11:33

Jury gives mixed verdict in Oracle vs Google case

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In the lawsuit brought by Oracle about Google's alleged infringement of Java copyrights and patents in Android, the jury has delivered a partial verdict. In the first part of the case, which concerns the copyrights of Java (chiefly of its API), Judge William Alsup had asked the jury to decide whether Google had infringed on Oracle's intellectual property when writing its Dalvik virtual machine. Google had denied the need to purchase a Java licence from Sun (which was later acquired by Oracle) and had claimed its use of the Java APIs constituted fair use.

In the verdict, the jury agreed with Oracle that Google had infringed on its copyright where the code for the API packages as a group was concerned. However, on the follow-up question of whether this infringement was permitted under fair use, the jury was deadlocked and did not reach a decision. The jury also cleared Google of any wrongdoings where the copyright of the Java documentation was concerned. The one clear decision from the jury was that Google had also infringed on Oracle's copyrights in nine lines of code in the rangeCheck method (code which Google claims to have no value at all and which the judge has not deemed worthy of infringer's profits). Judge Alsup commented that apart from those nine lines, "there has been zero finding on liability on any copyright so far."

The jury's decisions were taken under the assumption that the APIs are actually copyrightable, as Judge Alsup had instructed before asking the questions. With the jury having found Google guilty of some infringement and being deadlocked on the question if that infringement is permissible under fair use, it is now up to Judge Alsup to decide whether APIs of computer programs can generally be considered to be copyrightable. The jury verdict therefore only matters if the judge decides that APIs are copyrightable.

An appeal seems likely whatever Judge Alsup decides. Google's head lawyer Van Nest has already put in a movement for mistrial due to the fact that the jury has found his client to be infringing. The trial has now moved on to the patents phase of the lawsuit. Judge Alsup's decison on the copyright matters will be delivered as part of his overall verdict at the end of the proceedings. He has already indicated that the recent decision by the European Court of Justice will be taken into account.

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