Oracle-Google trial starts Monday; outcome could affect all developers

The trial over Android could set a precedent about whether software APIs can be protected by copyright

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Oracle and Google are due in court Monday for the start of an eight-week jury trial that could have significant implications for developers of Android applications, as well as potentially for developers of other software.

The trial is to determine whether Google violated Oracle's patents and copyrights when it decided to build Android using Java. Oracle says Google needed a license for the technology, while Google contends it built Android in a way that doesn't require it to have one.

Oracle is seeking damages that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars if it can prove willful infringement. Perhaps more serious for Google, Oracle wants an injunction that could force the maker of Android into making changes to its code.

It's unclear if Oracle's case is strong enough to win an injunction, however. It's in a weaker position than when it filed its lawsuit 18 months ago. Of the seven patents it originally asserted, five have been invalidated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and a sixth expires at the end of the year.

Oracle also has copyright claims, and has produced examples of where it says Google copied its code. The copyright claims are now the strongest part of Oracle's case, according to Florian Mueller, who writes the FOSS Patents blog.

The trial may be significant even for developers of other platforms besides Android, because it could set a precedent as to whether software APIs (application programming interfaces) can be protected by copyright.

The trial will be in three phases, starting with the copyright claims, followed by the patent claims. If Oracle prevails at either of those stages, a third phase will address what damages it's entitled to.

The trial will likely see high-profile executives called to the stand, including Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android business. Some of the discussion will be highly technical, and the judge has ordered both sides to produce a video tutorial to help the jury understand concepts such as APIs and class libraries.

Both sides agree that the Java programming language is not covered by copyright and that developers can use it freely without a license. But one point they disagree on is whether Google needed a license for the Java APIs used to implement the language.

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