Oracle, Google set for the Silicon Valley show trial
The Oracle-Google case unfolding in a San Francisco courtroom has all the elements of a top-flight TV legal drama or movie along the lines of "The Social Network." Billionaires and high-price lawyers and experts, along with nerds, a judge and a jury, will be packed into the courtroom for riveting and -- more often -- tedious and complicated testimony.
The trial could also reveal a few trade secrets, such as how much money Google makes from Android. But the outcome of this case will impact more than Google and Oracle. If Oracle prevails in its claim that Google violated copyrights on Java APIs, the result will be an engorged lawsuit economy slowing down innovation in Silicon Valley and other tech centers.
The U.S. District judge handling the case, William Alsup, has already given the trial an apt title: "The World Series of IP" (intellectual property). For months he has been encouraging the two parties to negotiate a settlement, including instructing Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Google CEO Larry Page to meet and find a solution.
As the jury trial gets under way, Alsup let the lawyers know that he will be keeping a tight rein on the proceedings.. "The idea that you can throw big numbers in front of the jury and hope to jack up the damage award, if there is one -- that is not going to be allowed. If it looks like you are trying to springboard, I'm going to intervene," he said.
The "World Series of IP" stars two mega-billionaire Larrys, Ellison and Page. Ellison has a deserved reputation as fiercest competitor in Silicon Valley and beyond. He started out designing a database for the CIA and soon after founded Oracle, which he has run for nearly 35 years. In the last decade, Ellison spent billions on acquisitions, building a dominant market share in enterprise software.
Page, 29 years junior to Ellison and the son of computer science professors, co-founded Google with his Stanford friend Sergey Brin in 1998. He became CEO in April 2011 and has focused his attention maintaining Google's leading search engine market share and figuring out how to end-run Facebook with Google+.
Other cast members might include some serious Silicon Valley, over-achiever firepower: James Gosling, the creator of the programming language, Java, which is at the center of the dispute; the pony-tailed, former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz; Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android group; and Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO.
But the real star of the show may be Oracle's superstar lawyer, David Boies. He is known for defending Al Gore in the Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, taking down Bill Gates in the U.S. vs. Microsoft antitrust suit and for overturning California's Proposition 8 banning gay marriage. Boies also served Oracle in its copyright infringement case against SAP.
Pre-trial, Boies wrote in an e-mail, "Google's management, at its very highest level, made the decision to intentionally infringe Oracle's Java-related intellectual property, in stark contrast to virtually every other industry competitor who have followed the rules for decades."
Google's lead lawyer, Robert Van Nest, is no stranger to Silicon Valley intellectual property cases. He was lead trial counsel for Intel's antitrust with the state of New York and for HTC in its ongoing battle with Apple over smartphone patents. Van Nest maintains that Google has not infringed on Oracle intellectual property. "Oracle accuses Google of infringement for doing what the Oracle API specifications describe. That is a classic attempt to improperly assert copyright over an idea rather than expression," he wrote in a court filing.
Now it's up to the jury to determine an important future direction of the software industry.