Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jury doesn't find Google to infringe two Oracle patents -- but the litigation is far from over

Here's the jury verdict that was rendered today and doesn't find Google to have infringed any of the claims of Oracle's two asserted patents:

12 05 23 Oracle Google Patent Verdict

On this basis, the jury was dismissed: there won't be a need for this jury to discuss damages since the copyright liability issues identified thus far will be postponed until the liability issue concerning the asserted Java APIs has been decided.

Here's my take on this particular verdict:

  • This was viewed as a patent case when it started, but it wasn't much of a patent case anymore when it went to trial.

    Before this trial started, it had already become crystal clear that the copyright part of the case was going to be the important one, not the patents. It would have been desirable -- but less than secondary -- for Oracle to prevail on its patent claims. Oracle itself made this set of priorities perfectly clear when it offered in mid-January to stay, or dismiss without prejudice, all of its patent claims in favor of a near-term copyright trial. This just didn't happen because Judge Alsup wanted to ensure that all claims be adjudicated together. But the mere fact that Oracle officially made such an offer shows that the importance of the patent part of the case is very, very limited.

    That is, by the way, also why I blogged a whole lot more about the copyright part of the case in recent weeks than the patent part. I attend patent trials almost every week and report on them frequently -- and I explained the key issues of the patent claims at issue at this trial. It's not like I wouldn't have been able to do more on the patent part of the case if I had wanted to. But I decided to focus on what's really important.

    Going forward, the attention will again shift to copyright, with Judge Alsup working hard on his decision on the copyrightability of the structure, sequence and organization of the 37 asserted Java APIs.

  • A jury verdict can still be overturned, in whole or in part, by a judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). In this litigation, this has already happened once: Judge Alsup overruled the jury with respect to Google's liability for infringing the copyrights in eight decompiled files. Just like on copyright, Oracle filed a motion for a JMOL with respect to the patent part of the case.

  • Legal issues concerning the jury instructions can also result in a subsequent modification of the decision. Earlier today, Oracle's counsel formally objected to one of Judge Alsup's most recent answers to the jury. Earlier this week, the judge said that whoever loses will have to appeal to the Federal Circuit, so he was also well aware of the fact that some of these issues are controversial and can give rise to an appeal.

  • A jury trial on patent infringement is a lottery since anyone who really would have the knowledge that is needed to understand the issue typically gets excluded. Also, different juries have different tendencies. Google was very lucky with this jury. The fact that Judge Alsup had to overrule the jury on one copyright liability item shows that this is a jury that erred in Google's favor. And the fact that the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict on "fair use" is, besides issues with the related jury instructions, another sign of this jury simply having been very defendant-friendly, even to the point of making a decision that Judge Alsup concluded "no reasonably jury could" make. (That's the legal standard, not an insult. But yes, it means that this jury was an unreasonable one.)

  • From a practical point of view, the "Gosling patent" (RE38,104) will expire before the Federal Circuit gets to decide. If Judge Alsup doesn't overturn the jury verdict with respect to that one, it won't result in an injunction against Android -- it will all boil down to damages for past infringement. The '520 patent, however, will be valid for several more years, and it survived reexamination.

[Update] Here's Oracle's statement: "Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java. We plan to continue to defend and uphold Java's core write once run anywhere principle and ensure it is protected for the nine million Java developers and the community that depend on Java compatibility." [/Update]

[Update 2] At noon local time, not long after the verdict, both parties filed their replies to the excellent interoperability-related questions Judge Alsup raised on Monday. I have taken a first look at those briefs and will explain the parties' positions after they file their reply briefs (due tomorrow) and their answer to the emulator-related question the judge asked earlier today. Stay tuned. [/Update 2]

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