Eric Schmidt takes stand at Oracle-Google trial

The Alphabet chairman gave little ground under questioning

Eric Schmidt took the witness stand Tuesday in Oracle’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, and he gave little ground during some tense exchanges with Oracle’s attorney.

The chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, was the first witness called in the trial, in which Oracle accuses Google of infringing its Java copyrights in Android.

Schmidt was initially questioned by Google's own attorneys, and testified that Google did not believe it needed a license to use 37 Java application programming interfaces for which Oracle owns the copyright.

Asked for the basis of that belief, he replied: “Forty years of experience,” implying it was common belief in the industry that APIs can be used without a license.

The mood was more tense when Oracle attorney Peter Bicks began his cross-examination of Schmidt, but the Alphabet chairman kept his cool.

Bicks wanted to show the jury that Google requires a license for the use of its own APIs, and that it considers its intellectual property a highly valuable asset.

“Are you telling me that you don’t treat your APIs as proprietary?” Bicks asked Schmidt at one point.

Google has "millions of APIs,” Schmidt replied, and asked for a specific example.

“I’m not aware of one that we treat as proprietary in the way you’re asking your question,” Schmidt said later.

At another point, as Bicks tried to get Schmidt to acknowledge that Google was in a hurry to get Android to market, Schmidt contested that the iPhone was a competitor to its mobile OS.

“You knew the iPhone was a competing product to Android, didn't you?” Bicks asked.

“That’s actually not correct,” Schmidt replied. “The original version of Android was a different kind of mobile platform.”

He finally acknowleged that Google was under "strategic pressure" to get its OS to market.

At another point, Schmidt said he didn’t recognize the name Henrique de Castro, a well known executive who ran Google’s mobile platforms division while Schmidt was CEO. When Schmidt finally recognized the name, he said Bicks had been pronouncing it incorrectly.

His responses made it more difficult for Bicks to establish points he wanted to make in front of the jury. But it also meant that Bicks wasn’t finished with his questioning when court wrapped for the day at 1 pm.

That means Schmidt will have to be back in court at 7:30 am Wednesday to finish up.

Google attorney Bob Van Nest protested that Oracle was almost done with Schmidt as a witness, but Judge William Alsup said the jury had a right to finish on time.

“I know this witness is a busy man, and so is the jury, and right now the jury’s convenience counts for a lot more,” Alsup said.

The case is expected to last about four weeks, and Oracle is seeking $8.8 billion in damages. Google says its use of the APIs is protected by the legal doctrine of "fair use" and that it owes Oracle nothing.

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James Niccolai

IDG News Service
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