In the heat of Oracle’s court battle with Google concerning copyright infringement, the owner of the open-source Java programming language saw a small victory on April 19th, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed a previously rejected Java patent. In the ongoing case, Oracle seeks to to prove that the manipulation of Java APIs, a practice Google utilized while developing its Android OS, could be perceived as copyright infringement, as certain portions of the code should be considered as protected creative works.
The patent in question, number 5,966,702, which relays a method for preprocessing and packaging class files to improve Java performance, was previously rejected by the courts on two different occasions. Now that the patent stands, it is unclear if and how Oracle plans to use the ruling in court. So far, the proceedings have seen Oracle CEO Larry Ellison looking confused on the stand, as well as Google CEO Larry Page appearing to give Oracle’s legal counsel the runaround. Oracle’s main point of contention surrounds its assumption that Google had pre-knowledge of the fact that portions of Java needed to be licensed, regardless of the language being open-source. It’s unclear how the ruling on patent 5,966,702 would help the case, as Google might just turn around and point out that there was indeed no patent in place while it began building Android.
The case might set a precedent, not only because of the possible 1 billion dollars at stake, but it could change general laws regarding how open-source software is manipulated. As I’d previously reported, the trial could transpire in three stages – copyright claims, patent claims and a third stage to asses any damages to be awarded to Oracle, if the company wins the first two segments. If the final stage is met, damages will depend on whether or not Oracle can prove that Google willfully violated any patents, which automatically triples fines. Check back as the Google/Android, Oracle/Java saga continues to unfold.