Oracle and Google kicked off a high-stakes jury trial in San Francisco yesterday, with Oracle arguing that Google ran roughshod over its intellectual property rights because the search giant was scared of getting left behind in the mobile advertising business.
"This case is about Google's use, in Google's business, of somebody else's property without permission," said Michael Jacobs, an attorney for Oracle, in his opening remarks to the jury.
Oracle sued Google 18 months ago, arguing that its Android operating system infringes Java patents and copyrights that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. Google denies any wrongdoing and says it doesn't need a licence for the parts of Java it used.
Judge William Alsup, who is hearing the case, warned both sides that they'll need to show good cause for any evidence submitted at trial to be kept from the public, and that unflattering details about either side might emerge.
"Unless it's the recipe for Coca-Cola, it's going to be public," Alsup said. "If it reveals something embarrassing about the way one of these companies works, too bad. That's going to be out there for the public to see."
Most of the opening day was taken up with jury selection, but Jacobs had time to deliver Oracle's opening statement before the proceedings wrapped up. Google will give its opening statement this morning.
Jacobs cited several emails to and from Google executives that he said would show that Google knew it needed a licence for Java and that, having failed to negotiate one, it developed Android with Java anyway.
Google's use of Oracle's intellectual property wasn't a mistake or the result of any confusion, Jacobs told the jury.
"The decision to use Oracle's intellectual property in Android was taken at the highest levels, with a lot of comprehension and awareness about what was going on," he said.
Google made most of its money from desktop advertising, he said, and the popularity of smartphones made Google realise around 2005 that it needed a mobile software platform to stay competitive.
Google had to develop Android quickly, and it had to attract developers to be successful, he said. "How did they meet those requirements? The answer is with components of Java."
Other companies such as eBay, Cisco Systems and General Electric bought licences to use Java, but Google "broke the basic set of rules governing the Java community," Jacobs said.
Some big Silicon Valley names are expected to be called to testify in the trial. Oracle's witness list includes its CEO, Larry Ellison, Google CEO Larry Page, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former Sun CEOs Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz.
Before jury selection took place, Alsup had to settle some last-minute disputes between the two sides.
Google thought it would be unfair if Oracle were allowed to tell the jury it paid $7.4 billion to buy Sun, because it might inflate the value of Java in the minds of the jurors.
"They've been dying to throw that number around," Robert Van Nest, an attorney for Google, told the judge.
Alsup ruled against him but nevertheless cautioned Oracle to be careful how it used such figures. "The idea that you can throw big numbers around in front of the jury and somehow jack up the damages award if there is one, that's not going to be allowed," Alsup said.
The trial will be held in three phases: first to hear the copyright claims, then the patent claims, and then any damages Oracle might be awarded. Oracle is seeking about $1 billion in damages and an injunction to block Google from shipping any infringing code.
The lawsuit is seen by many as a test case for whether software APIs (application programming interfaces) can be subject to copyright.