One of the biggest trials in the recent history of the tech industry is in full swing, as Oracle and Google confront each other in downtown San Francisco over whether or not Google improperly used technology from Oracle’s Java when developing Android.
Here’s what has happened during the first week of the trial.
The Opening Statements
Oracle is arguing that Google knowingly used copyright portions of Java in Android, instead of paying Sun Microsystems (which was later acquired by Oracle) for a license. Lawyers for the enterprise software giant wasted little time getting to the smoking e-mail, long expected to be as a key piece of evidence in the trial, at the beginning of its opening statement Monday morning.
Jurors were told that an Android engineer named Tim Lindholm sent an e-mail to Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android project, telling him in 2010 that potential Java workarounds wouldn’t cut it and that Google needed to license Java.
“The decision to use Oracle’s intellectual property in Android was taken at the highest levels, with a lot of comprehension and awareness about what was going on,” said Michael Jacobs, representing Oracle, in its opening statement as reported by IDG News Service.
But Google, Android’s parent, contends that it didn’t actually need a license for the parts of Java that were present in Android when it was first developed: APIs (application programming interfaces) that help software programs talk to each other.
In an at-times dense technical presentation, Google lawyer Robert Van Nest argued that Sun (the original developer of Java) wanted companies to use Java APIs freely to boost usage of the programming language, and that Sun executives expressed support for Android several times upon its initial release.
“They want a share of Android’s profits,” Van Nest said according to Dow Jones, painting Oracle as envious of Google’s mobile market share, but raising the possibility that Google might have to reveal those profits (or lack thereof, in some people’s minds) in order to make its case.
Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CEO, went first — and judging by tweets from those in attendance, he delivered a smooth performance outlining his company’s interest in Java. He did stumble a bit on cross-examination when confronted with past statements about Java, mobile technology, and Android, as reported by ZDNet.
But Ellison also shared interesting tidbits such as Oracle’s internal debate over whether it should purchase Research in Motion or Palm in order to get into the smartphone business. The company ultimately decided that it would have been a bad idea — which turned out to be a good call.
Page, Google’s co-founder and current CEO, received less-stellar reviews of his performance as compared to Ellison’s. But he was forced onto the defensive right away, given that as the plaintiff, Oracle opened the trial by presenting its version of events.
Under scrutiny from legendary legal combatant David Boies, Page ducked a series of questions about how involved he was in Google’s decision to build Android without obtaining a license from Oracle, according to Wired. For a guy as smart as Page, who is as responsible for the modern era of Internet search as anybody, he sure does have a shaky memory.
The Tech Guys
Thursday saw the arrival of the geeks, which dramatically decreased the amount of live-tweeting and hopefully didn’t lull the jurors to sleep. That’s because this is the crux of dispute: Oracle is attempting to prove that APIs are novel works of art, while Google wants them to be thought of as universal tools available to all.
Oracle’s Mark Reinhold, who was heavily involved with Java at Sun and later Oracle, testified that copyright notices are included on every page of the documentation that lays out the Java programming language, according to CNET. However, the companies differ as to whether or not the APIs that are included with the Java language are also subject to copyright.
CNET also noted the testimony of Google’s Joshua Block, who like his boss “didn’t recall” whether 9 lines of Java code key to the trial were used in Android but acknowledged — when provided with side-by-side comparisons of Java and Android code — that they looked awfully similar.
However, the most interesting engineer to appear Thursday was Lindholm, who is probably doing more to decrease e-mail inbox traffic between executives at Silicon Valley tech firms than anybody. As noted by Reuters, while under questioning from Oracle’s attorneys Lindholm claimed (or tried to claim) that he wasn’t referring to a specific company when he told Rubin “We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java under the terms we need.”
It’s a little hard to understand what Lindholm believes he was referring to in that e-mail, and he didn’t elaborate. After all, there weren’t all that many companies offering a license to Java. But it’s also possible that Rubin and Google’s lawyers didn’t believe they needed to heed Lindholm’s advice on copyright law, just as he wouldn’t necessarily take their advice on software development.
The Next Step
The trial will continue Friday with Oracle still on the offensive, and is expected to stretch another seven weeks, unless a settlement is reached.