The parties are the software giant Oracle, and the Internet concern Google. The issue is Java, the software platform of which Oracle became the owner, when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010. And the witness list will be interesting: Both Google CEO Larry Page, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison are expected to take the witness stand during the trial, as will former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, and Andy Rubin, the Google Senior Vice President who runs its Android and mobile operations.
The allegations are fairly simple, but the case could have some significant impact if Oracle prevails in some of its arguments. Oracle sued Google in the summer of 2010, alleging that the Android mobile operating system violated seven different Java patents.
Five of those patents have since been tossed out since they were re-examined, leaving two. That reduces the potential amount of damages that Oracle might be entitled to should it prevail. Google even went so far as to offer to cut Oracle in on Android and $2.8 million in a damages in the event it prevails. Oracle declined.
The other issue, and the one that has the potential for more lasting impact, is over copyright. Oracle will argue in court that Google violated copyrights on Java. Specifically, Oracle alleges that when Google was creating Android it copied a lot of material more than 37 Java application programming interfaces or APIs, and 11 lines of Java source code, and that these are subject to copyright protection like other intellectual property.
This is a new and controversial legal argument that has software developers watching the trial closely. Google has argued that APIs shouldn’t be subject to copyright protection because they’re more akin to tools and techniques that programmers use to build software. I may be simplifying it a little too far here, but one way of thinking might be to ask if it’s possible to copyright the technique and instructions for hammering a nail or fitting a door.
Google has argued APIs and programming languages aren’t entitled to copyright protection, for exactly that reason: You can copyright a given program because it’s unique, but you can’t copyright the language it’s written in. Perhaps I’m straining my skills at analogy here, but the way I understand Google’s argument, as put forth in an April 12 brief, is that you can copyright “So What?,” but you can’t copyright Jazz.