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Andy Rubin: I didn't know about Sun's patent portfolio

Google's Android chief was called back to the stand -- possibly not for the final time -- in the Oracle v. Google trial in San Francisco this morning.

In Oracle v. Google, April 24, Oracle lawyer David Boies questions Google's Andy Rubin (at left).
Vicki Behringer

SAN FRANCISCO--Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile, continued to defend the Internet giant's argument that Android engineers had no knowledge of Sun Microsystems patents in the Oracle v. Google trial here this morning.

As the founder of Android and leader of the unit at Google, Rubin has played a prominent part in this trial at the U.S. District Court of Northern California over the last few weeks, making several appearances before the 12-person jury.

After recalling Rubin yesterday afternoon as part of the plaintiff's case in the patents phase of the trial, Oracle attorney Michael Jacobs picked up right where he left off, skipping any pleasantries and continuing to present more past e-mails as evidence that Rubin was possibly aware of Sun's patents.

Jacobs kept things brief during his initial questioning, asking, "Mr. Rubin, true or false: as of August 2009, you were referring to Dalvik as a Java Virtual Machine?"

Rubin replied that the Android team used that term "interchangeably" on an internal basis to refer to Dalvik, the virtual machine on which Android runs.

Later during cross-examination, Google counsel Christa Anderson asked Rubin to further explain this. Rubin explained that referring to Dalvik as a Java Virtual Machine or JVM were not terms they used publicly because those monikers are trademarked. He confirmed that the engineers were also referring to the Java programming language, which is free to use.

As previously noted, Oracle's goal with Rubin's testimony was to nullify Google's argument that the Android team had no knowledge of Sun's patents. However, Anderson tried to turn Oracle's strategy on its head by getting Rubin to address this.

Rubin had originally testified that before July 2010, he was never made aware of any potential lawsuit over Sun's patented intellectual property related to Java, nor did he seek this out.

"I believe as an engineer you shouldn't study someone else's inventions when you're trying to come up with your own," said Rubin.

When asked by Anderson why he nor his team ever attempted to learn about Sun's patents, he replied there were a "number of reasons," first citing that virtual machines weren't new when Sun created the Java virtual machine.

He also pointed out that "there are hundreds of millions of patents worldwide."

"It's not reasonable to go searching through all this paperwork, not for an engineer," Rubin remarked. "You need to be a trained lawyer for that."

Possibly recalling the blog post by former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, which has become a sticky subject for Oracle, Rubin confirmed that Sun's reaction to the debut of Android offered "more confidence" that Google wasn't violating any patents.

"Over the period of the development, we felt it just wasn't necessary anymore to worry about this stuff," Rubin said.

However, during redirect questioning, Jacobs tried to get Rubin to contradict himself that he had no knowledge about a possible patent lawsuit from Sun, citing an e-mail thread from August 2007 between Rubin and the Android team.

In that e-mail, Rubin discussed why he didn't want to adopt Sun's GPL license. On the stand, Rubin asserted that he was writing about why it didn't work for Google as they wanted to implement a new open-source version of Java.

Jacobs pointed to the postscript in the e-mail in which Rubin wrote that Google negotiated for nine months with Sun, walking away after Sun threatened Google with a lawsuit over patent violations.

Jacobs then asked Rubin repeatedly in a few different ways if it was still Rubin's testimony that he never had any discussions about a lawsuit involving Sun's patented technology.

Rubin tried to explain that line was not referencing Android and his implementation of Java, but rather something to do with other units at Google.

Although it's not definite yet, Rubin might appear back at the courtroom again during this trial as Oracle placed him on recall. Until then, Judge William Alsup told Rubin he was free to go.

This story was first published as "Android chief says he didn't know about Sun's patent portfolio" on ZDNet's Between the Lines.