Opening arguments in Oracle's (ORCL) - Get Oracle Corporation Report long-running copyright infringement suit against Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A ReportGoogle unit begin Tuesday in San Francisco.
On Monday, lawyers began selecting jurors who will hear the dispute over the inner workings of the Android operating system and the mores governing licensing and other relations between applications developers. The case will likely take several weeks to conclude.
First filed by Oracle in late 2010, the suit has created a rift in the tech sector. Hewlett Packard (HPQ) - Get HP Inc. (HPQ) Report , Red Hat (RHT) - Get Red Hat, Inc. Report and Yahoo! (YHOO) filed papers supporting Google before the Supreme Court, while Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report , EMC (EMC) and NetApp (NTAP) - Get NetApp, Inc. (NTAP) Report filed a brief supporting Oracle.
Larry Ellison's software company argues that Google's Android wireless operating system borrowed heavily from Oracle's Java software development language without obtaining licenses, and seeks $8.8 billion in copyright damages and $475 million in lost revenue.
Oracle claims that Google, facing a serious threat as consumers moved from PCs to mobile devices, made improper use of Java application programming interfaces, or APIs, as it developed its own Android mobile operating system. "It copied thousands of lines of Oracle's computer code as well as the structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 Java API packages into Android," Oracle's lawyers argue in a trial brief.
Sun, which Oracle acquired in early 2010, had promoted the use of APIs to further the use of Java, Google states in its trial brief. The Alphabet unit claims it made fair use of the application interfaces.
Oracle is trying to do through the courts what it could not accomplish in the marketplace, Google suggested. "Only when Oracle concluded it lacked the engineering skill to build its own 'Java phone' did it choose Plan B -- this lawsuit," Google's trial brief states.
Google won the first round in 2012, when the San Francisco District Court ruled that the Java APIs were not entitled to copyright. But Oracle scored a victory in 2014, when an appellate court reversed the ruling. The court did not decide whether Google had made fair use of the API, however, and remanded the case for retrial. The Supreme Court then declined to hear Google's appeal last year, which brought the matter back to San Francisco.
The $9 billion or so that Oracle seeks is real money, even to Alphabet. The Google parent had $75 billion in cash and marketable securities at the close of the first quarter.
And the decision will have an impact beyond just Alphabet's balance sheet.
In a letter to the Supreme Court, HP, Red Hat and Yahoo! argued that the ability of APIs to enable the interaction of applications provides the "very foundation of the Internet" and all of the computers, phones, smart thermostats and other devices we connect to it."
"The use of computer program interfaces, including for compatibility and interoperability, without the need to negotiate a copyright license, is both ubiquitous and essential to the operation of information technology and infrastructure," they wrote.
Meanwhile, Microsoft, EMC and NetApp sided with Oracle when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2013.
Without the protections of copyright, the group wrote, they would have to restrict information about their applications. "That would strike a devastating blow to innovation in the software industry, cross-industry collaboration and ultimately to downstream consumers," they wrote.
Even a tech-savvy jury pool in Northern California will face a challenge digging through the code behind Oracle vs. Google.