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Oracle-Google patent trial starts today

They're finally going to trial after two years of litigation over Android and Java. What's really at stake here for the two Silicon Valley giants?

Greg Sandoval/CNET

Oracle's patent infringement lawsuit against Google is finally set to go to trial at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco today, but there are certainly plenty of questions looming as to where this will end up.

The fact that these two Silicon Valley giants will finally have a trial under way is fairly incredible (and slightly unbelievable), given how much back-and-forth there has been over the last two years since Oracle initially filed suit in August 2010.

Since then, there have been numerous delays with potential start dates assigned for October 2011, January 2012, and March 2012. It was only just last month that April 16 was given the green light. That date was solidified once the last-ditch effort for another round of settlement talks fell through.

One of the biggest hurdles for getting this trial under way is that these two companies just can't even seem to agree upon on what they're fighting over.

Yes, it's clear that Oracle is suing Google over patent violations involving Android and Java -- patents that used to be owned by Sun Microsystems but now belong to Oracle. Google has reasserted time and again that Sun was a big supporter of Android, and that the programming language was free to use.

To clarify matters before going into trial, Judge William H. Alsup issued an order on April 6 asking each side to "take a firm yes or no position on whether computer programming languages are copyrightable."

But Oracle has also repeatedly failed to pinpoint and narrow down which patents being violated. Furthermore, it hasn't helped that settlement talks have continuously stalled proceedings. Even dragging in Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Google CEO Larry Page didn't do any good.

The big debate going into the trial is what is at stake here for Oracle and Google. Even more to the point: How much money is Oracle going to win, and will it get a cut of Android revenue going forward?

It's all but said and done that Oracle is going to have some kind of payday. During a court hearing last July, Alsup declared that Google is definitely going to pay up "probably in the millions, maybe in the billions" at some point.

Last September, Oracle wanted at least $1.16 billion in damages from Google, which is considerably less than the $6.1 billion it was asking for in July. Yet some followers of the cast have said that Oracle would be lucky to extract even $100 million in this intellectual property suit.

Likely accepting that some sort of defeat is inevitable, Google did put one offer on the table a few weeks ago. Google offered to pay Oracle up to $2.8 million in damages over two patents in question. Furthermore, Google also offered a deal of 0.5 percent from Android revenue for one patent through December 2012 and 0.015 percent on a second patent through April 2018.

However, that bargain would only be offered as a stipulation for damages if (and only if) Oracle prevails on patent infringement. Oracle rebuffed the deal anyway.

Whatever Oracle ends up with (or not), we should know relatively soon, as the trial is only expected to last eight weeks -- an incredibly short time when you put all of these other proceedings into perspective.

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "Oracle v. Google: What's at stake."