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Oracle suffers setback in Java patent battle with Google

07 Dec 2011

Oracle's court case against Google over alleged Java patent infringements in Android is in danger of collapsing after a senior judge revealed that he could throw out large parts of Oracle's damages claim.

Judge William Alsup issued a "tentative order" in the long running court case on Tuesday, which gives the firms some indication of the final order he will make in the next couple of months, although there is no set trial date yet.

Patent analyst Florian Mueller told V3 that the judge has probably shown more tentative support for Google than Oracle, which means that the latter may find it harder to claim damages.

One such example is the judge asking Oracle for more details and proof of the damages it is claiming for the asserted patents. Google will be asked to respond only when Oracle comes back with the proof.

However, Mueller pointed out that the latest development is not a complete setback for Oracle.

"The thing is, this court case is not all about damages. If it was between SAP and Oracle it would be about damages, but Oracle wants an injunction against Google to make sure Android is banned unless Google brings it in full compliance with Java standards," he said.

"The question raised about compatibility and incompatibility is at the very core of the case to Oracle, and the judge showed he was taking Oracle's concerns over non-compliance with the Java standards very seriously."

Mueller was referring to the judge's agreement with Oracle that a licence fee for an incompatible implementation of Java must be much higher than for a compatible one.

The judge has also appointed an independent damages expert for the remainder of the legal battle.

"This is very unusual in US courts. The judge obviously thought both parties took a position on damages too far apart, which were unreasonable, so he has appointed a damages expert that will be heard by the jury."

Mueller concluded that the jury's decision is likely to rest heavily on the views of the independent damages expert.

Oracle and Google have until 20 December to comment on the order before it is finalised by the judge. Mueller said he expects Oracle to strongly protest against the decision.

Oracle originally claimed up to $6bn in damages, but has since revised this to $1.16bn, an amount that Google continues to dispute.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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