It was Larry vs. Larry as two powerful chief executives of two of the most successful tech companies squared off in court in person.
The rare appearance of two chiefs squaring off was part of a civil court trial that began this week. Oracle and Google are fighting over whether Google’s Android operating system violates copyright on Java, the open-source computing language that Oracle got when it acquired Sun Microsystems. It may last a while, but within a couple of days the arguments are clear.
Oracle says Google went out of its way to avoid getting a license to use Java, and has shared internal Google e-mailsto suggest as much. Google says Java is free, and cites an Oracle post to that effect. Therefore, Google says, we don’t need a license.
In terms of trial theater, the best stuff was probably the sight of the two Larrys: Larry Ellison, Oracle chief executive, and Larry Page, Google chief executive, making their respective cases. Mr. Ellison was, by most accounts, smooth, if occasionally tripped up by Google’s lawyers about whether or not Java was free. Mr. Page toed the company line, repeatedly stating, “we did nothing wrong.”
The trial will most likely move deeper into the weeds, on issues like whether or not Application Programming Interfaces, or A.P.I.’s, can be copyrighted, or otherwise considered differently than underlying software languages. Another issue is whether Android is so closely following Java as to be a copy (unless you are a hard-core programmer, if you like being certain you do not want to be on this jury).
Don’t be fooled by the descent into nuance, however: for much of the industry, and for Oracle in particular, the stakes are potentially high. Much future success of Android depends on whether it is free, or whether Oracle gets to charge Google or Android manufacturers a license fee for things like brand, compatibility or certification.
If Android remains free, Android can continue to move into more phones and other devices, possibly including computer servers, at no cost. If it does start to cost money to use Android, then other operating system manufacturers, particularly Microsoft, will have a better shot of a meaningful presence in the market.
“Obviously, money is what it is all about,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC. “The issue is whether it is something short term or something more strategic. For Oracle, Java has to be preserved, and part of an ecosystem. It would help them if Android is considered part of Java. And Google would likely say that this process is not fast enough, that would make it hard to compete with the iPhone.” He characterized the trial as “a draw, so far.”
There is still a chance the two sides will come to an agreement outside of the trial itself, particularly if one side feels it might lose. Corporate lawsuits are often negotiations by other means.