Jury renders partial verdict copyright infringement in Oracle v Google case
The key here is that while the jury found that Google copied the names and structure of the Java API (technically question 1-A), they deadlocked over the issue of whether that copying constitutes fair use (question 1-B). Without a ruling on fair use Oracle really cannot collect damages for it. At the request of Google’s lawyers, Judge Alsup has just ordered both sides to prepare briefs to comment on whether or not a mistrial will have to be declared on question one due to the split decision.
Even if the Judge allows the ruling to stand, the actual question of whether or not an API can be copyrighted is something he will be ruling on next week – the jury had been instructed to assume that APIs can be copyright for the purpose of rendering a verdict, to help prevent the need for a retrial. Ironically, a retrial may end up being unavoidable now.
In short, while many sites will be saying that the finding favors Oracle, it’s not clear what, if anything, Oracle has won here. Google conceded that the API names are the same, the issue is whether APIs can be copyrighted at all (which has yet to be decided) and if so whether this particular use of 37 APIs amongst several million lines of code constitutes fair use. Since the jury could not decide that, Oracle has really not won anything. In one way the ruling works against Oracle – with the ruling that Google did copy the API’s the judge must now rule on whether copyright protects the sequence and structure of API names.
No rest for the wicked though - the second phase of the trial, dealing with the remaining two patents that Oracle is asserting against Google, is scheduled to begin immediately.