Oracle v. Google: After the jury verdict, what happens next?

Last year's reports said Oracle could extract up to $6.1 billion from Google over patent infringement. That didn't happen. Here's what's next.

The real impact of today's jury verdict in Oracle's long-running and -- as we now know -- overhyped lawsuit against Google means that the case is basically over.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court of Northern California dismissed the 10 remaining jurors, who served for about a month, and sent them home.

What happens next depends on how much more money Oracle CEO Larry Ellison wants to spend on litigation. Ellison could find a reason to appeal Oracle's whopper of a loss on its allegations of patent infringement. Or his attorneys could ask the trial judge to overturn the verdict.

Alsup is hardly likely to agree to the latter. And if Oracle chooses to appeal, it's facing the steepest of uphill climbs: a U.S. legal tradition that protects jury findings unless there's compelling evidence that jurors acted clearly erroneously.

No less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has said that, once the jury rules, the losing party is "not free to relitigate the factual dispute in a reviewing court."

It's worth looking back and recognizing that last year's headlines about Oracle claiming to be owed $2.6 billion in damages for patent infringements for turned out to be, well, precisely $2.6 billion too high. (One patent expert, Florian Mueller, noted at the time that the total could jump up to $6.1 billion. Mueller is now a consultant for Oracle). Today's verdict also takes the threat of a patent-based injunction against Android smartphones -- one of the reasons the case drew so much attention -- off the table.

Oracle's original complaint filed in August 2010 listed seven allegations. So far, Google has been found not liable for six of them, all dealing with patents. That leaves one remaining claim: allegations of copyright infringement.

When buying Sun in 2009, Oracle also acquired the rights to Java. Its lawsuit claims Google's Android operating system "materially contributed" to copyright infringement by mimicking the format of some of Java's application programming interfaces, or APIs. Google says it's protected by copyright law's fair use exception.

Oracle's copyright claim has hardly been applauded by free and open source software advocates. Groklaw, which chortled over today's jury verdict on patents, has called it a "very extreme position."

The jury decided in May that Google had infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of Java, but hung on whether the search company had made fair use of it or not. In a post-verdict discussion with reporters today described by Joe Mullin of Ars Technica, jury foreman Greg Thompson said Oracle never really came close to winning either phase of the trial.

The proceedings will resume on Tuesday morning next week, following a break for the Memorial Day holiday.

Google and Oracle both filed briefs today addressing APIs and copyright. Google claimed that "interfaces and exceptions are functional requirements for compatibility with the APIs in those packages, and therefore are not copyrightable."

The next step involves how Alsup will rule on the fair use question. Also -- and arguably far more important -- is the question of whether the judge will rule that APIs cannot be copyrighted, which would yield another win for Google. Of course, Alsup's rulings on Oracle's copyright claim could also be appealed.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee currently on leave

12:48 p.m. PT: Clarification: The original text of this article linked back to a 2011 piece authored by patent expert Florian Mueller. The article should have noted that Mueller only began consulting for Oracle last month.
 

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