Google vs. Oracle: The Showdown, The Stakes
Google and Oracle head to trial in a landmark patent infringement case that may hamstring Android's fortunes in the mobile market.
Two tech giants go head-to-head in an eight-week trial in a San Francisco court. On the stand: Google's Android OS, which Oracle alleges violates Java patents it acquired when it bought Java maker Sun Microsystems.
Many analysts expected the two companies would reach a settlement when Oracle originally filed suit against the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant in 2010. But the two companies have been unable to come to an agreement, haggling over exactly how much Google should pay and what patents it should shell out over. Now, both will duke it out in a case that could change Android's position in a mobile market it has come to dominate and alter industry dynamics from the top down.
What's So Important About This Trial?
In the legal patent wars embroiling most of the industry in a web of litigation, most cases have taken on Android "by proxy," aiming at phone makers' specific features. Android and Google are directly on trial now, and many in the industry will watch closely for its wide-scale industry and legal implications.
At the heart of the trial is sheer cold cash: the verdict will likely set a benchmark on how much money Google will pay over Android patent violations.
The case's inner workings will also have an impact on Android's app ecosystem at a time when the OS is fighting hard to fiercely compete with Apple's iOS in one of the most lucrative ancillary markets associated with mobile phones.
What Does Each Player Want?
The central tension of the trial concerns the amount of money Google should pay for alleged Android infringement. Oracle wants a major payday; Google wants to limit the scope and amount of a settlement.
Despite overtures by Google and multiple attempts by the court to get both parties to come to an accord, Oracle has steadily refused to settle. Oracle originally sought a settlement of $6.1 billion when it filed suit. While Oracle knocked down damage estimate to $2.6 billion, it refused to go lower and is expected to angle for $1 billion, an injunction against Android, as well as a cut of Android revenue in the future.
Google, on the other hand, also refuses to settle on an amount. It initially offered $100 million in compensation and damages, but Oracle rejected the amount as too low, as well as subsequent Google offers. The Internet giant now aims to limit the scope of what parts of Android are liable for infringement, winnowing down the amount of the final damages and settlement.
What Exactly Will This Case Decide?
How big will Oracle's payday be, and will it get a cut of Android in the future? That's the question at top of mind for anyone paying close attention to the trial. The amount the court decides is expected to set records, and potential licensing may be comprehensive.
Android is also at risk at being banned from the market if Oracle can get the court to issue an injunction against Android. With the OS on most phones in the mobile market, a ban will have a major effect on what handsets are on sale, how much they sell for, what software they can run and what apps are available on the OS. A ban would majorly stymie Android's momentum in the market, especially against rivals like Apple.
An examination of the finer argument of the Oracle-Google trial also tests what parts of mobile phone software are copyright-protected, which will have major long-term ramifications for Android app makers and the future of software development in general.
Google admits it used Java technology in Android, but the debate brewing between the two companies is whether or not widely used programming tools -- known as application programming interfaces, or APIs -- can be copyrighted as well.
Google, in an April 12 brief, argues that these tools engineers use to write software are not protected by copyright and its use of certain widely used APIs in Java is not liable to infringement.
But if Oracle prevails with the court, Google must alter certain core aspects of Android, prompting a wide ripple effect on all players in the Android ecosystem -- including independent software developers and app makers, who would have to revise huge swaths of code if parts of Android are found liable to copyright violations.
"It would not be practical to go under the hood of each API to see if someone was going to sue you over using it," said Michael Barclay, iOS app developer, to the BBC. "It would be the equivalent of buying a music CD and suddenly finding someone wanted to charge you for listening to track 10."
The precedent set could create uncertainty and confusion in Android's open-source development, and phone makers and app developers will likely shy away from an OS they perceive as being particularly vulnerable to legal challenge.
What To Keep An Eye Out For?
Many analysts expect a large amount of evidence about Google's inner workings and business will come to light during the trial, which may sap some of its competitive advantage against rivals. The exact amount of revenue Google gets from Android could also be revealed -- a number that has remained elusive up to now.
Such information may lead to more lawsuits and trials against Android, especially since several tech giants such as Microsoft and IBM have similar patents to the Oracle intellectual property at the heart of the trial. The benchmark reached by the trial's end would likely set precedent if they chose to attack Android under similar charges, and they will be monitoring the trial's proceedings closely to see if Android's vulnerabilities apply to their patents.
Who's Going to Win?
It's a given Oracle is going to get a licensing agreement or settlement as a result of the trial. Already several pieces of evidence, especially an incriminating admission from a Google engineer, indicate Google knew it was using Java code in Android and went ahead without getting Sun's permission. The crux of the trial instead focuses on Google's scope of liability.
What's the Big Picture?
Several high-profile lawsuits have tangled the major mobile players in the industry, but the Google-Oracle case will likely have the largest, most immediate effect upon the most widely used mobile OS in the world.
The mobile market has largely become a choice between iOS and Android, with platforms like Windows attempting to gain hold and RIM's BlackBerry trying to hold on. Android has gained traction quickly and found itself on a huge amount of handsets, but depending on how broadly Oracle can make its case, the effects of the trial could equally be as far-reaching, and an Android stumble could allow rivals to gain on Android or pull ahead.
No matter what, the implications could rock Silicon Valley. U.S. District Judge William Alsup will preside over the trial, which he calls "the World Series of IP cases" for its significance for copyright law. Pull up a seat as the two tech giants battle over the fate of one of the key players of the industry. ♦
Categories: News Desk