Why it matters: The Northern District of California has recently overseen a high-profile, closely watched IP case. On May 26, 2016, the jury in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc. rejected Oracle's copyright infringement claims against Google (for which it sought $9 billion in damages) and found that Google's use of basic elements of Oracle's Java programming language to build its Android mobile operating system constituted fair use under federal copyright law. The Oracle judge affirmed the jury's verdict in a lengthy order issued on June 8, 2016. Oracle has indicated its intention to appeal. Read on for a recap.
Detailed discussion: Here, we review a recent high-profile IP case from the Northern District of California, which is almost certainly headed to the Federal Circuit on appeal.
Oracle America Corp. v. Google, Inc.
First, a brief recap of the relevant facts in this long-running litigation: In 2010, Oracle America, Inc. (Oracle) filed a $9 billion lawsuit against Google, Inc. (Google) in the Northern District of California alleging that Google's Android mobile operating system infringed Oracle's patents and copyrights related to 37 of its JAVA applied programming interfaces (JAVA Packages). At the conclusion of the first trial in 2012, with District Court Judge William Alsup presiding, a federal jury found that Google did not infringe Oracle's patents but did infringe Oracle's copyrights in the 37 JAVA packages. In addition, the jury deadlocked on Google's fair use defense (as to which Judge Alsup denied Oracle's motion for judgment as a matter of law). Shortly after the trial, Judge Alsup ruled that the replicated elements of the 37 JAVA packages—including the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization elements—were not subject to copyright protection. He thus vacated the jury's finding of copyright infringement with respect to the JAVA Packages and entered judgment in favor of Google.
Oracle appealed to the Federal Circuit, which reversed on May 9, 2014, reinstating the jury's finding of infringement with respect to the JAVA Packages and remanding the issue of Google's fair use defense to the district court for resolution in light of the Federal Circuit's opinion. The Supreme Court denied Google's petition for certiorari in 2015.
On May 26, 2016, after the conclusion of the second trial on remand, the federal jury returned a verdict that Google's use of basic elements of Oracle's Java programming language to build its Android mobile operating system constituted fair use under federal copyright law. On June 8, 2016, Judge Alsup issued a 20-page order again denying Oracle's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of fair use and entered judgment in favor of Google.
In his order, the judge said that he believed it necessary to set the stage and "leave a few important observations" about the "charging" instructions on the law of fair use (including the four-factor test therefor) that the parties ultimately agreed could be presented to the jury and that Oracle was now challenging. Judge Alsup then addressed Oracle's "main" challenges to the jury's verdict by looking at the evidence presented at trial in light of the four-factor fair use test. While conceding that the jury could have gone either way on the issue, the judge concluded that the jury's verdict was reasonable in light of the evidentiary record in the case and denied Oracle's motion.