Did Oracle Sue Google to Save Face on Sun Mistake?

Joel Anderson  |

You could say that veteran litigator David Boies was trying to "turn the Page" on Wednesday, April 18th.

Boies grilled Google (GOOG) CEO Larry Page on the witness stand as part of the ongoing lawsuit by Oracle (ORCL) over copyright infringement in the technology used in Google's Android phones.

Boies appeared frustrated with the way that Page appeared to duck major questions about Google's plans involving the technology used in Android phones, often answering "I don't recall." Page, whose suit and tie represented a major departure from the more common casual wear worn at the company's Mountain View, CA headquarters, rarely made eye contact with Boies in his hour of testimony and claimed not to have the details of many negotiations and documents in his memory. He did, though, insist that Google was not guilty of any wrongdoing in its dealings with Sun Microsystems, the company that owns the patents in questions and was purchased by Oracle in January of 2010. Sun owned the Java programming language that Oracle is claiming Google used while making Android.

"His denial of knowledge and recollection contrasts with evidence of his personal involvement with the decision to use Java without a license," said Florian Mueller, an analyst and author of a popular blog on patents. "There's a lot at stake here not only for his company but also for his own reputation."

At the core of Boies' argument is that Page and Google were aware as early as 2005 that they would have to pay licensing fees to use Java's programming language and simply chose to try and avoid the licensing fees. While Page was evasive about details, he did admit that Google had made efforts to come to a deal with Sun Microsystems to use Java.

"We really wanted to use Sun's technology," Page said. "It would have saved us a lot of time and trouble to use Sun's technology. When we weren't able to have our business partnership, we went down our own path."

Google's case may be hurt by the fact that most other major tech companies have opted to pay the licensing fees to use Java, including IBM (IBM). Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO, pointed this out during his testimony, stating that Google is "the only company I know" that hasn't paid for Java.

Whether or not the jury was convinced by Page's claims that he couldn't remember the details of the dealings remains to be seen, but much rides on the outcome of the trial.

"I think it's not unreasonable to expect that people don't remember details of every email they sent or received," said High Technology Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law professor Tyler Ochoa. "But certainly when it comes to something as important to Google as the use of Java and the development of Android, you'd think that's something he would have better recall about."

The consequences of the court ruling could be major for Google and even the tech sector as a whole, writes Clint Boulton, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

"Oracle’s legal assault against Google, which alleges that Google’s Android mobile operating software violates Oracle patents and copyrights, has generated some uncertainty for CIOs. The case raises questions about the future of Android and even creates the possibility, however unlikely, that CIOs could lose their right to deploy handsets and tablets based on Google’s popular system."

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