Oracle is so desperate to get a conclusion to its legal battle with Google that it is willing to suspend or even forgo patent claims, as long as it can fight its copyright case this spring. This indicates the urgency with which key IPR players are looking to establish their position in the rapidly expanding smartphone industry, but while the Java-Android dispute goes to the heart of the Google platform, other attacks, mainly by Apple, are looking increasingly gratuitous
The year has started with more of the same in the mobile patents war – Samsung and Apple hurling more injunction claims at one another, and ups and downs for Android and Apple in US and European courts. The main new development came in the Oracle case against Google, which potentially has more far-reaching implications for Android's cost base and liabilities than the other actions, since it goes to Java IPR at the heart of the Google OS.
This week, Oracle seemed to grow tired of the repeated delays in the case, and said it was willing to drop its patent infringement claims if the court would fast-track its other case, which alleges copyright infringement against Java.
Oracle presumably thinks this case will be easier to win and could still gain it a significant settlement from Google, and recognition of the fundamental role Java plays in many software platforms. As patents expert Florian Mueller wrote on his Foss Patents blog, Oracle's primary objective is to get an injunction against Android handsets. Unlike Apple, the database vendor is not after killing Android per se, but an injunction would force Google to negotiate, thus allowing Oracle to assert its own position as a power broker in mobile software, as well as monetizing the Java assets it acquired with Sun.
Mueller wrote: “Oracle's priorities are clear: more than anything else, it wants an injunction. Oracle wants that injunction as soon as possible, and it is willing to bet, in the near term, on the copyright part of its case.”
The database firm would rather, of course, return to the patent allegations later, but is willing to give them up altogether to get a quick hearing.
In a filing submitted on Tuesday, Oracle proposes three possible measures to accelerate the progress of its case. Its preferred route is for the court to “sever and stay” its patent claims and set a trial date for the copyright allegations for this spring. During the time the copyright claims were being heard, Oracle would work on a third attempt to come up with an estimate of the damages it would seek for patent infringement, and then the patent case could be heard at a later date.
The damages issue is one of the major factors delaying the hearing. Last week, Judge William Alsup postponed the trial again, and said he would not set a new one until Oracle “adopts a proper damages methodology.”
He said Oracle was to blame for the latest delay, because it has twice submitted damages calculations “obviously calculated to reach stratospheric numbers”. Last summer the database firm said it would seek up to $6.1 billion (€4.7 billion), which Google called "orders of magnitude beyond any reasonable valuation of the intellectual property at issue.” Alsup agreed, suggesting a figure closer to $100m. Oracle's second attempt was also dismissed and the trial cannot proceed until this issue is settled.
However, if its preferred proposal does not go down well, Oracle suggests the court could dismiss the patent charges without prejudice. It could then proceed with its copyright claims but would have to start from scratch if it decided to launch a new patents attack at a future date.
The third option Oracle sets out would come into play if the court refuses the first two. The supplier would then ask for a trial date in the next few months on both the copyright and the patent cases, in return for accepting the damages estimate that has been already approved by the court, of around $100 million.
The set of suggested options shows how desperate Oracle is to get a settlement. Google was previously the party pushing for the patent claims to be suspended to focus on copyright alone, but Oracle had opposed that route. "Oracle's proposal ... is a bold move,” Mueller wrote.
In the same filing, Oracle said it would not abandon its plan to present to the jury the so-called Lindholm email, which implies that Google knew that it needed a license for Java before suit was filed. Google has been battling to keep that email out of court even though its content has been made public elsewhere.
In it, Google engineer Tim Lindholm wrote: “What we've actually been asked to do by [Google co-founders] Larry and Sergey is to investigate what technology alternatives exist to Java for Android and Chrome. We've been over a hundred of these and think they all suck. We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java.”