Google: Android developers never looked at Sun's patents

Google's Android chief testifies on the stand in week four of the Oracle-Google trial

Google's engineers never studied other companies' patents while developing Android for fear of allowing those patents to influence their design decisions, Google's Android chief Andy Rubin testified on the stand Wednesday.

"I believe when you're an engineer you shouldn't study someone else's inventions when you're trying to come up with your own," Rubin testified under rebuttal questioning by one of Google's lawyers.

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He also said that no one at Sun Microsystems had ever told him Android might be infringing Sun's patents related to Java.

Rubin was on the stand for the patents phase of Oracle's lawsuit against Google, which accuses it of infringing Oracle's Java intellectual property in Android. Oracle acquired the rights to Java when it bought Sun about two years ago.

Michael Jacobs, an attorney for Oracle, tried to get Rubin to contradict himself on the stand. At one point, Rubin said he was unable to recall a specific conversation with Sun because he talked with them about patents "all the time."

Jacobs jumped on the admission. Was Rubin saying he had discussions with Sun "all the time" about Java patents relating to Google's implementation of a Java?

"I think 'all the time' was colorful language by myself; it's hard to talk about patents all the time," Rubin said.

His discussions with Sun about patents were related to Sun's decision to make Java open source, Rubin said later. Google wanted to ensure Sun's plans would not leave handset makers who used the open source code vulnerable to lawsuits from Sun, he said.

Rubin also defended Google's decision not to study Sun's patents for potential infringement. Google knew virtual machines were not new, he said, and in any case there are "hundreds of millions" of patents in the world. "It's just not reasonable to go searching through all this paperwork, especially if you're an engineer. You should be a trained lawyer," Rubin said.

Oracle also showed video deposition testimony from Rubin, recorded earlier. "Did anyone at Google issue a directive for the Android team not to look at Sun's patents?" Jacobs asked in the video. "Not that I know of," Rubin replied, but he said the instructions to do a "clean room" version of Java convey implicitly that the engineers should not look at other companies' patents.

Rubin protested at one point that the questions are about complex legal matters.

"Engineers aren't lawyers," Rubin said at one point. "Some of the questions you asked me today are so complicated my head is about to explode."

Rubin was released from the stand, but Oracle said he might be recalled later. The patent phase of the trial continued with Oracle calling Andy McFadden, a Google engineer who has worked on Android since 2005.

The trial is in three phases to address copyrights, patents, and damages. The copyright phase ended inconclusively Monday when the jury rendered a verdict that Google had infringed Oracle's Java copyright in Android, but could not agree whether that infringement was covered by fair use. The question may have to be put to another jury.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com.

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