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Oracle Versus Google: The Database Kingpin Gets Desperate

Oracle’s lawsuit against Google over alleged infringement of Java slipped from epic battle to soap opera this week: The relationships between the judge, jury, plaintiff and defendant have become a tangle of legal ambiguity and financial suffering — or is it avarice? The jury deferred to the judge on the extent of Oracle’s intellectual property protections. The judge, in turn, wrested from the jury control over the lion’s share of damages, yanking Oracle’s prize another few inches out of reach. With major issues still to be decided, it is becoming clear that Judge William Alsup holds the high cards – and that he has the tech smarts to play them intelligently and mercilessly.

The trial is unfolding in three phases: Copyright, patent and damages. The copyright phase ended last week with the jury convicting Google on one of three counts, namely infringement of nine lines of Java code known as rangeCheck. In a separate issue, the jury couldn’t agree on the question of whether Google’s use of the Java API was a so-called fair use, and thus allowable under copyright law. That question went to the judge, who hasn’t decided yet. His decision could have a big impact on the size of Oracle’s payoff, as we’ll explain in below.

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