Google has received a boost in its patent infringement dispute with Oracle over the use of Java in Android, after a US judge suggested that Google should not have to pay anywhere near the $2.6bn Oracle is demanding.
A US Federal court hearing last week heard that Google rejected the chance to pay Sun Microsystems $100m to use the Java platform when it was developing the Android operating system.
This revelation could be a significant blow to Oracle, as the firm had been banking on getting a settlement of between $2.6bn and $6bn.
US district judge William Alsup has now asked Oracle to revise its damages report, noting that, even if Java is a critical component of Android, it does not justify application of the entire market value rule.
"Given the presence in this case of a real-world ‘comparable' close on point - the last Sun offer in 2006 - the court is strongly of the view that the hypothetical negotiation should take that $100m offer as the starting point," he said.
"Wheels are critical to an automobile, but no one would apportion all of the demand for a car to just the wheels. It seems highly unlikely that Android derives its entire value from a small set of infringing features, given its breadth."
Judge Alsup did, however, warn Google about its conduct in the matter, and suggested that there is still a strong possibility of Oracle winning an injunction.
"Google may have simply been brazen, preferring to roll the dice on possible litigation rather than to pay a fair price," he said.
"There is a substantial possibility that a permanent injunction will be granted in the event that infringement is found, especially if willfulness is proven."
Florian Mueller, a software patents specialist, argued that Oracle faces an uphill battle to secure a multi-billion dollar settlement.
"[The] profitability of this for Oracle may now depend mostly on the question of whether or not the court grants an injunction, which is increasingly a possibility given what the judge said at a hearing on Thursday," he said in the Foss Patents Blog.
"With an injunction, Oracle would have the leverage to negotiate a licensing deal [with Google] that could result in a very high per-unit royalty."
A trial date is set for October, and Oracle's revised damages claim is due 35 days before the final pre-trial conference.
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