Court tosses out Oracle's bid to disqualify expert in Java case

James Kearl had appeared as an expert in a patent dispute between Samsung and Apple

A court in California has declined Oracle's bid to disqualify an expert in its copyright dispute with Google over the use of Java code in the Android mobile operating system.

James Kearl of Brigham Young University was asked by District Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to serve on the case and guide the court on damages, in the event of a liability being found.

But Oracle questioned Kearl's neutrality, charging that he had previously appeared for Samsung in a lawsuit against Apple, when he sided with Google in the case "where the patents at issue involved technology that is part of Android." Samsung makes smartphones that use the Android operating system, and Google agreed to defend and indemnify Samsung in the lawsuit with Apple as to certain aspects of its defense against Apple’s affirmative claims.

"Oracle has not pointed to a single statement ever made by Dr. Kearl in the Apple case (or elsewhere) relating to Android or Google, or one usable to impeach any position he may take here," Judge Alsup wrote in his order on Monday. Kearl’s role was limited to assessing the reasonable royalty damages resulting from the alleged infringement of Samsung’s patented inventions in Apple devices, and that analysis had no relationship to Google or Android, he added.

"Dr. Kearl steered completely clear of Android and limited himself to consideration of Apple’s implementation of Samsung’s patented inventions," the Judge said. Google did not provide any financial assistance to anyone on the issues on which Kearl testified as these addressed counterclaims by Samsung, which the Internet giant had not agreed to pay for, he added.

The focus of the lawsuit has narrowed down to 37 Java APIs (application programming interfaces) which were said to have been infringed by Google in Android. Judge Alsup ruled in 2012 that the APIs were not copyrightable, but his decision was overturned in May last year by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled that the Java API packages can be copyrighted. Google thereafter appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear the case, and referred it back to the district court for a decision on whether Google’s use could be seen as fair use.

Oracle held that an expert is no longer necessary in the case as the damages calculations have been simplified now that it is not asserting any patent claims. But Judge Alsup held that the "complexity of the damages issues remain monumental," and could amount to "multiple billions of dollars," if one takes into account Oracle's various claims for damages. "The damages question remains complicated by the fact that the parties employ elaborate, nontraditional business models for the products at issue," the Judge added.

Oracle included six news versions of Android and new products and services built around the operating system in a proposed supplemental complaint in August. There are now over 1 billion active monthly Android users and more than 8,000 devices running versions of Android, it said.

The additions will likely buttress its claims for higher damages for what it describes as direct and indirect infringement by Google, including by reproducing and distributing Android to hardware manufacturers and software developers. Oracle also hopes to knock down Google’s argument that its use of the copyrighted material was ‘fair use,’ which is a legal doctrine that permits copying under limited circumstances.

Oracle could not be immediately reached for comment.

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John Ribeiro

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