Oracle v. Google jury returns partial verdict, favoring Oracle

A unanimous jury found that Google infringed on Oracle's Java, but failed to say whether Google had made "fair use" of the material. Google called for a mistrial.

Rachel King Staff Writer
Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet based in San Francisco.
Dan Farber
Rachel King
6 min read

SAN FRANCISCO -- The  jury in the Oracle v. Google trial rendered a partial verdict, favoring Oracle, in the copyright phase of the trial. Yet a question the jury failed to decide prompted Google to call for a mistrial, and could sharply limit damages even if the verdict stands.

The five male and seven female jurors failed to deliver unanimous answers to four detailed questions (see below) Judge William Alsup provided them prior to deliberations. The questions aimed to determine whether Google's Android mobile platform infringed on part of the Java programming language that Oracle acquired from Sun in 2010.

The entire jury did agree on the first, and most important, question -- that's 1A, for those of you following with the scorecard -- finding that Google did infringe the overall structure, sequence and organization of Oracle's Java language (which the judge had told instructed the jury to assume was copyrighted, although that question remains unsettled).

However, the jurors were at an impasse on the second part of Question 1, which asked if Google proved that it had made "fair use" of that material or not. As to the documentation for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group, the jury found that Oracle did not prove that Google infringed. The jury similarly found that Google did not infringe on English-language comments in CodeSourceTest.java and CollectionCertStoreParameters Test.java or source code in seven "Impl.java" files. However, it agreed that Google did infringe on the rangeCheck method in TimSort.java and ComparableTimSort.Java.

Following the verdict, Google's attorneys called for a mistrial, arguing that there can't be a partial answer on Question 1. Google will argue for a mistrial on Tuesday and Thursday; Judge Alsup said the mistrial question should be settled by Thursday.

The decision came after the jury almost delivered a partial verdict on late Friday afternoon last week, but was asked by the judge to continue deliberations.

While Judge Alsup allowed in his instructions to the jury that Oracle's copyrights can extend to the structure, sequence and organization of the Java APIs, he could ultimately decide as a matter of law whether APIs are protected by copyright.

Google issued the following statement to CNET:

We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims.

Google also claims that pending further rulings by Judge Alsup, there is "zero finding of copyright liability" outside of nine lines of code. Google similarly claims that Oracle attributed "no value" to those nine lines in its damages report.

Oracle, too, had a statement:

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write once run anywhere principle. Every major commercial enterprise -- except Google -- has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms.

At issue in this phase of the trial was whether Google infringed 37 Java APIs (application programming interfaces). Oracle argued that Google copied the APIs from the Java core libraries into the Android core libraries. Oracle's lawyers compared the creation of APIs to writing a piece of music, going further to say that API's are not just "ideas," but creative, copyrightable works that require significant expertise and time to develop.

Google argued that there was no copyright infringement because Google didn't copy any unauthorized Java code and made fair use of the Java language APIs in Android. Google argued that its use of the Java APIs was "transformative," rather than derivative, because it created something new with Java. In addition, Google's legal team played up that Sun publicly approved of Android's use of Java.

The verdict came after more than a week of deliberations, which began a week ago today after lawyers from both Oracle and Google offered closing statements for the first phase of this trial.

On Tuesday, both legal teams met in the courtroom for a one-hour conference at 10 a.m., debating answers to jury questions concerning Google's use of Java APIs from Apache Harmony as well as Oracle's proposed witness list for the next segment of the trial, which will focus on patent infringement.

On Wednesday, the jury returned with more questions that pointed toward copyright infringement. Although the answer didn't entirely please Google's lawyers, Alsup instructed the jury that they could consider both direct and indirect streams of revenue related to Android.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury returned with the eighth note issued during the deliberation period, which asked, "What happens if we can't reach a unanimous decision and people are not budging?" On Friday morning, Alsup asked attorneys from both Oracle and Google for their thoughts about where to proceed from here. 

While neither side was entirely happy about the prospect of a partial verdict, Oracle lawyer Michael Jacobs acknowledged that it would be one way to conclude the case. Robert Van Nest, Google's lead attorney, resolutely opposed the idea, preferring a completely unanimous verdict or a mistrial for the copyrights segment of the case. Judge Alsup gave the jury the weekend to think about the impasse over one of the questions in hope of avoiding a partial verdict today.

Judge Alsup also asked the Google and Oracle attorneys on Thursday to file additional detail on their respective positions and on the question of whether an API or programming language, such as Java, can be copyrighted. In addition, he asked the two sides to  comment on a ruling from the European Court of Justice, in a case that closely parallels Oracle v. Google in the U.S., that found programming languages are not copyrightable.

That European ruling stated that "neither the functionality of a computer program nor the programming language and the format of data files used in a computer program in order to exploit certain of its functions constitute a form of expression. Accordingly, they do not enjoy copyright protection."

The next phase of the trail will consider whether Google violated two patents associated with Java.

Below are the four questions that the jury had to answer in coming to its verdict. 

1. As to the compilable code for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group:

A. Has Oracle proven that Google has infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works?

Yes __________ No __________


B. Has Google proven that its use of the overall structure, sequence and organization constituted "fair use"?

Yes __________ No __________

2. As to the documentation for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group:

A. Has Oracle proven that Google has infringed?

Yes __________ No __________


B. Has Google proven that its use of Oracle's Java documentation constituted "fair use"?

Yes __________ No __________

3. Has Oracle proven that Google's conceded use of the following was infringing,

the only issue being whether such use was de minimis:

Yes No

A. The rangeCheck method in TimSort.java and ComparableTimSort.Java

(Infringing)              (Not Infringing)

Yes __________ No __________

B. Source code in seven "Impl.java" files and the one "ACL" file

(Infringing)            (Not Infringing)

Yes __________ No __________

C. The English-language comments in CodeSourceTest.java and CollectionCertStoreParametersTest.java

(Infringing)              (Not Infringing)

Yes __________ No __________

4. Answer the following special interrogatories only if you answer "yes" to Question 1A.

A. Has Google proven that Sun and/or Oracle engaged in conduct Sun and/or Oracle knew or should have known would reasonably lead Google to believe that it would not need a license to use the structure, sequence, and organization of the copyrighted compilable code?

Yes __________ No __________

B. If so, has Google proven that it in fact reasonably relied on such conduct by Sun and/or Oracle in deciding to use the structure, sequence, and organization of the copyrighted compilable code without obtaining a license?

Yes __________ No __________

Your answers to Questions 4A and 4B will be used by the judge with issues he must decide. Questions 4A and 4B do not bear on the issues you must decide on Questions 1 to 3. 

Below is full text of  the judge's final charge to the jury, filled in with the jury's verdict (h/t Florian Mueller).