A federal judge has ordered Oracle Corp. and Google Inc. to prepare for trial next month in a high-stakes lawsuit over claims that Google infringed on Oracle's intellectual property by using Java programming tools to create the popular Android mobile software.
The order came after several court rulings and concessions that narrowed the claims Oracle originally leveled in a 2010 lawsuit. But experts say the dispute could still have far-reaching effect on the burgeoning mobile computing industry.
Google's Android software is the world's most popular operating system for smartphones and other mobile devices. If Oracle prevails, Google could be forced to change disputed elements of the Android software and potentially pay damages amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
An Oracle expert initially estimated damages could exceed $6 billion. But U.S. District Judge William Alsup sided with Google on several motions that argued Oracle's calculations were based on poor methodology, including the expert's most recent estimate of $1 billion.
The San Francisco-based judge has taken the unusual step of appointing an independent expert to come up with his own damage estimates for a jury to consider.
Alsup's rulings, however, could make it more likely for the two companies to negotiate a last-minute settlement before the trial's scheduled start on April 16, according to Florian Mueller, a software patent consultant and blogger who has followed the dispute closely.
"With Oracle's case having been narrowed during the course of this litigation, a settlement is now more likely than last fall," when a magistrate ordered Google CEO Larry Page and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison to meet in person for settlement talks, Mueller said Tuesday.
Page and Ellison met for several hours last September at the San Jose federal courthouse, along with attorneys and aides, without resolving the dispute. Oracle is also facing upcoming trials this spring in highly publicized disputes with rivals Hewlett-Packard Co. and SAP AG.
In the dispute over Android, Oracle is asserting rights to Java that it acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2009. While Sun had released much of the Java programming language under an open-source license, Oracle and Google disagree over whether Android's creators used other Java tools that are still covered by patents and copyrights.
Google has persuaded U.S. patent officials to reconsider and reject some of Oracle's patents. Oracle agreed last week to drop some patent claims so the trial could go forward. But Oracle is still pressing claims on two patents and allegations of copyright infringement, which could force Google to share some of its profit from advertising related to Internet searches conducted on Android devices.
Oracle has also argued that Android doesn't comply with Java standards, creating unnecessary complexity for Java developers and making the programming system less useful. An Oracle spokeswoman declined comment Tuesday.
In a statement, Google noted that the judge rejected some of Oracle's damage estimate again on Tuesday. "This was Oracle's third failed attempt to come up with realistic damages," a spokesman said. "These patent and copyright claims are without merit, and we look forward to defending against them at trial."
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