A jury today found Google liable for copyright infringement in its use of Java in Android, but it has not managed to decide whether that infringement was protected by rules governing "fair use."
The verdict, delivered after a week of deliberations by the jury, is a partial victory for Oracle in its lawsuit against Google, but Oracle will have to wait longer -- possibly for a retrial -- to see whether Google will escape liability by claiming fair use. Google has already asked the judge to dclare a mistrial.
The ruling could have major implications for software developers, as Oracle claimed that the use of the Java APIs in Android violated its copyright, even though Google had used an independent Java virtual machine called Dalvik to run them. Google argued that APIs are like grammar, uncopyrightable aspects of a language, but Oracle produced damning testimony from Sun Microsystems and Google executives suggesting Google did not believe those claims itself and instead looked to skirt a need to get a license for the APIs. Sun created Java and its APIs, and was later bought be Oracle.
The jury also decided that Sun's public statements about Java might have suggested to Google that it did not need a license for Java. But in another setback for Google, it decided there was insufficient evidence to show that Google relied on that information. That means the jury wasn't swayed by a much-discussed blog post from then-Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz in which he congratulated Google on its release of Android, and said that it would be good for Java.
Google did prevail on some other issues in the case, including the finding that Google did not violate the copyright for Oracle's Java API documentation.
After the verdict was delivered Monday, the trial moved immediately into the patents phase of the case, with Oracle making its opening statement. The trial is in three parts, to address copyrights, patents, and any damages Oracle should receive.
But although the patents phase is under way, the copyright phase is far from concluded. As well as the outstanding issue of fair use, Judge William Alsup, who is hearing the case, must decide whether Oracle's Java APIs (application programming interfaces) can be copyrighted at all under U.S. law.
Historically, APIs have not been considered copyrightable. But Oracle argues that the the "structure, sequence and organization" of the 166 API packages in Java are sufficiently complex to merit protection.
Google has until late Monday to submit its arguments on that issue to Alsup. The judge has not said when he will rule on the law question, but some observers expect it to happen before the damages phase of the trial begins in about two weeks.
"We appreciate the jury's efforts and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin," Google said in a statement sent via email. "The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims."