SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal jury failed to agree on a pivotal issue in Oracle’s copyright-infringement case against Google, blunting the impact of its finding that Google relied on another company’s technology to build its popular Android software for mobile devices.
The impasse reached Monday in San Francisco hobbles Oracle Corp.’s attempt to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from Google on grounds that the Internet search leader pirated parts of Android from Oracle’s Java programming system.
Although the jury decided Android infringes on some of Java’s copyrights, the five men and seven women on the panel were divided on whether Google’s actions were permissible under “fair use” protections of U.S. law. The fair-use provision allows excerpts of copyrighted work to appear in other creative expressions, such as books, movies and computer software.
With the fair-use question still dangling, Oracle now appears to have little hope of emerging from the trial with a windfall.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup advised lawyers on both sides Monday that there is “zero finding of copyright liability” without a fair-use verdict.
The jury also found that Android infringes on nine lines of Java coding, but that claim probably won’t be worth more than $150,000 in damages, based on statements made earlier in the trial. When an Oracle lawyer suggested Monday that the infringement verdict on the nine lines could be worth substantially more, Alsup said the idea “borders on the ridiculous.”
The same jury will decide on damages later. After issuing its partial verdict on the copyright claims, the jury began listening to opening arguments in the next round of the trial, covering Oracle’s allegations that Android violates two Java patents. Those claims are believed to be worth considerably less than what Oracle might have gotten had it prevailed on all of its allegations of copyright infringement.
Android now powers more than 300 million smartphones and tablet computers, with another 6 million people activating the software on a mobile device each week. Google has driven its adoption by giving the software away to manufacturers of phones and tablets _ a strategy that would have squeezed its profit margins even more if Java’s technology had to be licensed.
Alsup indicated that isn’t likely to happen. “I could do that at any time, but I may never get there,” he said. “I think there are arguments that go both ways on that.”
The partial verdict came after five days of deliberation and two weeks of evidence that included testimony from three technology tycoons who rank among the world’s richest people _ Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Google CEO Larry Page and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Although it wasn’t a complete victory for Google, the outcome comes as a relief. Besides facing the prospect of a huge bill for damages, Google would have suffered a blow to its carefully cultivated image as a business that always strives to do the right thing.