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Day Four

Google vs Oracle – Google engineer Lindholm says Java licensing email misinterpreted

Chris Mayer

Day Four of the trial centred upon delving deeper into the definition of Java APIs and Google engineer Tim Lindholm testifying

The trial between Google and Oracle over the use of Java patents to build the Android platform has entered its fourth day, with Google engineer Tim Lindholm taking to the stand. Clearly the focus was on that email which had been fought over before the two even came to court.

Lindholm, who has been working for Google since 2005 is arguably at the centre of this case over an email sent to Android chief Andy Rubin over using Java in Android back in 2010. Lindholm wrote in that email:

What we’ve actually been asked to do (by Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin]) is to investigate what technical alternatives exist to Java for Android and Chrome. We’ve been over a bunch of these, and think they all suck. We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java under the terms we need.

After establishing that Lindholm was indeed working on Android after moving over from Sun, Oracle’s attorney David Boies asked what Lindholm meant in that email. Lindholm confirmed he wrote the email but that he was not referring to a license from Sun, telling the court “It was not specifically a licence from anybody.”

The focus shifted towards API copyrighting, which Oracle fervently believe that Java is indeed covered by. Lindholm had a different view saying:

As a software engineer, not a lawyer, it’s always been my understanding the organisation of software APIs are free for use by other people.

Later on whilst being cross-examined by Google’s counsel Christa Anderson, Lindholm added that he believed that the software Oracle believes is rightfully theirs, is in fact free to use by all. He was also asked about his role at Google, which Lindholm said was working on infrastructure and not substantially on Android itself. Which begs the question, why would he have sent the original email? Lindholm said that because of his background with Java and Sun, he was involved in Java licensing and partnership negotiations between Google and Sun, which of course broke down and never materialised to anything concrete.

Another Google engineer, Josh Bloch admitted earlier in the day that he had copied some Java code whilst working with Android, adding that API design is a noble and rewarding craft – which could prove pivotal when Oracle are trying claim APIs should be copyrighted.

The rest of the day was devoted to a refresher class in Java, when Oracle’s Java chief architect Mark Reinhold gave a tutorial on Java as part of his testimony, mainly to aid the jury. The line of questioning was focused on the 37 Java APIs that formed the bones of the lawsuit, with Reinhold defining key parts of the Java language, APIs, class libraries and so on.

His most salient message was that Java APIs and libraries don’t form the entirety of the Java language, like the Oxford English dictionary would with English. A good analogy to make it clear for the jury. Crucially, Reinhold added that the majority of these APIs weren’t required for key Java language development, but some are intrinsically linked. He also made it clear that each page of the Java language specification contains a copyright notice.

Reinhold believes that around 20% of the Java API packages were written by JCP members, so neither Sun or Oracle. Ten of the 37 APIs were indeed created in this manner, free of Oracle/Sun’s rule (ie. unpaid).

Thursday’s courtroom action could well prove pivotal in the long run for the eight-week trial, as things have got much more heated following Lindholm’s appearance. The trial continues.

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