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Partial verdict in Oracle-Google case seen as setback for Oracle

May 07, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • Oracle CEO Larry Ellison arrives at the federal court building in San Francisco on April 17 to testify in his company's copyright infringement case against Google.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison arrives at the federal court building in San Francisco… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

A partial jury verdict in its copyright infringement case against Google has handed Oracle a major setback, limiting damages against the search giant.

The jury on Monday found that Google did improperly borrow the structure of Oracle's software code but did not violate Oracle's other copyrights. Oracle, which accused Google of stealing a key piece of its technology to build the popular Android mobile software, sought up to $1 billion in damages on copyright claims in San Francisco federal court.

Although the jury found that Google infringed on the largest of Oracle’s claims, it could not agree on whether Google was legally protected under the fair use doctrine, a key issue in the case. That limits Oracle to statutory damages, which range from $200 to $150,000. And Google will not have to redesign its Android software.

After the jury left the courtroom, Oracle attorney David Boies suggested Oracle was entitled to more than statutory damages and should receive a share of Google’s profits. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the request bordered "on the ridiculous."

Google, which prevailed on two other claims, has asked for a mistrial. Alsup said he would hear arguments on that motion later in the week.

"The verdict is a mixed bag. There are some things that are favorable to Oracle and there are some things that are favorable to Google. But overall Google still has a few ways it can win this case," said Tyler Ochoa, professor at the High Technology Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.

The judge could decide that the structure of the code cannot be copyrighted, or he could grant a new trial to reexamine the fair use issue, Ochoa said.

The jury deliberated a week. Now the same 12-member jury will hear evidence in the next phase of the trial, which will cover Oracle's allegations that Android violates two Java patents, claims that are not worth as much as the copyright claims. The third phase of the trial will determine damages.

Oracle got control of the programming language when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010. It has said in the past that it thought Google owed $1 billion in damages and that it would seek an injunction to block the sale of Android devices. Google gives away Android for free to mobile device makers, and it has quickly become the world's most popular smartphone software.

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