Google, Oracle battle in court over Android

A month-long trial in a copyright battle between Oracle Corp. and Google Inc. began in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday.

Redwood City-based Oracle claims Google infringed on copyrighted Java programming language in developing its Android operating system for smartphones, tablets and other devices.

If Oracle wins the claim, it may seek up to $8.8 billion in damages from the $42 billion in profits it says Mountain View-based Google has earned from Android, according to documents Oracle filed in the case.

Google’s defense is that its use of the programming, known as application programming interfaces or APIs, was “fair use,” a legal doctrine under which a limited amount of copyrighted material can be used if it is transformed in some way or has a different purpose.

The APIs were developed in the 1990s by Sun Microsystems Inc., which was acquired by Oracle in 2010.

Testimony began today following jury selection Monday in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

Although Google is the defendant in the case, it has been allowed by Alsup to present its side first because it has the burden of proving its assertion of fair use.

The company’s first witness today was former Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, who is now the executive chairman of Google’s recently formed parent corporation, Alphabet Inc.

Schmidt told the jury that when Google was developing Android nine years ago, he didn’t believe the company needed a license from Sun for the APIs:

“We believed our approach was appropriate and permitted.”

Under questioning from Google attorney Robert Van Nest, Schmidt said that in 2007, Sun’s chief executive officer Jonathan Schwartz knew Google was building Android with Java, never expressed disapproval and never said Google needed a license from Sun.

In cross-examination by Oracle attorney Peter Bicks, Schmidt acknowledged that he had said in 2007 that Google was under pressure to compete with the Apple Inc.’s newly released iPhone.

He also acknowledged that in a 2008 interview, he said:

“From a Google perspective, intellectual property rights are fundamental to how we operate.”

Schmidt’s testimony will be completed when the trial resumes in Alsup’s Federal Building courtroom Wednesday. Oracle Executive Chairman Larry Ellison is expected to testify later in the trial.