Up steps the founder

Oracle vs Google – Android chief Rubin quizzed over Java emails

Chris Mayer
Andy-Rubin.1

One of Android’s founding fathers takes to the stand to defend the series of emails sent regarding Java licences and we delve deep into the mire of API copyright law

Week Two of the patent infringement case filed by Oracle against Google resumed at the fast pace of the previous week, with Android co-founder Andy Rubin making an appearance at the witness stand, to answer questions relating to the email conversation he was part of in 2005 and 2006.

Rubin appeared much calmer than his Google colleagues Larry Page and Tim Lindholm when testifying, but it wasn’t long before Oracle’s lead lawyer David Boies found an achilles heel in Rubin’s argument. According to CNET, Boies ‘established that Rubin knew that he didn’t need a license for the Java programming language, but that the emails made clear during that period of Android’s development he thought Google would need a partnership with Sun or a TCK license from Sun, and that the java.lang APIs were subject to copyright.’

Rubin added that ‘those were the options at the time’ – referring to whether Google should team up with Sun or acquire a license on their own.



Boies pressed Rubin on a March 2006 email in which Rubin said he didn’t see how Google could open up Java without Sun being a part of it, as they own the intellectual property. Rubin confirmed this was correct in court, saying that the java.lang APIs are copyrighted:

I didn’t exactly say that …in the context of this I think that means that the APIs were copyrighted.

This could provide Oracle with some artillery after taking a hammering at the end of last week over the copyrightability of the 37 APIs at the epicentre of this case. This clashes with Lindholm’s view from a few days ago, as he denied that Google needed a licence for Android.

The focus then shifted to another part of the same email with Boies querying Rubin’s email statement that a “cleanroom version of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) would be unlikely because of the Android team’s prior knowledge of Java,” considering that a large number of Google’s team had jumped over from Sun’s Java development group. 

Rubin believed that Boies/Oracle were reading too much into that statement, adding that they were at least contemplating it.

There’s still plenty of contention surrounding those APIs though. Oracle still believe 37 APIs are in play, Google don’t. Google don’t believe that there’s any infringement within the Android codebase of 15 million lines of code, Oracle still want that pie-in-the-sky billion dollar figure.

The ‘work as a whole’ argument is still under much debate too. Judge Alsup had had enough of the lawyers’ games and told the two tables of seven lawyers apiece, representing Google and Oracle, that he didn’t believe that the 37 APIs are the “Holy Grail” of copyright law, saying:

I am curious why you would want the judge to instruct the jury that the 37 APIs are a whole. That is not what the evidence is.

So, we’re not exactly anywhere clearer on the API copyright aspects of this case at all. Tomorrow, Rubin is expected to return for questioning, followed by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. The case continues.

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