A Google Inc. software engineer testified that when he wrote in a 2010 e-mail, “We need a license for Java,” he didn’t mean a license from Java’s creator, Sun Microsystems Inc., or any other company.
“When you referred to a license, was it a license from Sun?” Tim Lindholm, the engineer, was asked today by David Boies, an attorney for Oracle Corp. (ORCL:US), which acquired Sun in 2010 and owns the Java programming language.
“No, it was not,” Lindholm said before a federal jury in San Francisco at a trial over whether Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights and patents when it used Java to develop the Android operating system for mobile devices. “It wasn’t specifically a license from anyone.”
The e-mail, which Google tried unsuccessfully to keep jurors from seeing, is a key piece of evidence in the case. It has been used several times by Oracle’s attorneys, who told jurors at the beginning of the trial that Google, the owner of the world’s most popular search engine, knew it needed to pay for a Java license.
“Jurors are always looking for motives in intellectual property cases,” said Philip Anthony, a jury consultant in Los Angeles who isn’t involved in the case. “The importance of the e-mail provides motive for a juror.”
“It essentially says to a lay person Google had no other option but to infringe upon the Java property,” Anthony, chief executive officer of DecisionQuest, said in a phone interview.
Google has said it didn’t need a license to use the language, which is free, when it developed Android, now running on more than 300 million devices.
In his e-mail, Lindholm said he had been asked by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google’s co-founders, to “investigate what technical alternatives exist to Java for Android.”
“We’ve been over a bunch of these, and think they all suck,” Lindholm wrote. “We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java under the terms we need.”
Shown the e-mail yesterday when he was called to the stand by Oracle, Page said he couldn’t recall Lindholm or giving him any directions concerning Java or whether Lindholm had recommended that Google take a license for Java.
Lindholm, a former Sun engineer who joined Google in 2005, said later in his testimony today that Google and Sun were in discussions about a co-development agreement in which Google would use Sun’s source code, or computer program instructions, as a basis for work on Android.
‘No Substantial Role’
“In that agreement a license would have been necessary,” Lindholm said. He said he played “no substantial role” in the development of Android.
Google rejected a proposal by Sun in 2006 that the search engine company pay $100 million for a three-year technology partnership to build Android jointly, Google’s lawyers said in the case last year.
Oracle, based in Redwood City, California, is seeking $1 billion in damages and a court order blocking distribution of Android unless Google, based in Mountain View, California, pays for a license.
Boies didn’t question Lindholm further about the details of the license referred to in the 2010 e-mail and the engineer wasn’t asked to explain his meaning when questioned by a Google lawyer.
The case is Oracle America Inc. v. Google Inc. (GOOG:US), 10-03561, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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