Published: 18 April, 2012
CEO spotters will have a field day in California this spring as the chiefs of the biggest mobile players turn up to testify at various patent trials. The CEOs of Apple and Samsung, Tim Cook and Gee Sung Choi, have both been ordered to attend a settlement conference regarding one of the firms' bitter patent disputes, before a federal court in San Jose. Meanwhile, the heads of Oracle and Google have both made appearances in their copyright and IPR trial, which began on Monday.
Apple and Samsung, which are fighting about 30 cases in four continents, both indicated they were willing to take part in the settlement talks, said US District Judge Lucy Koh. That meeting will take place within 90 days and will address claims and counterclaims around Samsung's Galaxy SII 4G and its Tab 10.1 products, among others. In December, Koh denied Apple's request for an immediate US injunction against the two devices. Should the talks fail, full trial is scheduled to start on August 25.
By that time, the outcome of Oracle's attack on Android - which it accuses of violating copyright and patents in its own Java system - will be known. Oracle kicked off the San Francisco trial, which could last for 10 weeks, on Monday by arguing that Google's top executives have been aware for years that they had stolen key technology to build Android. Lawyer Michael Jacobs said in his opening statement: "We will prove to you from beginning to end ... that Google knew it was using someone else's property." Google denies all the allegations and says some of the elements under review are not subject to copyright anyway.
The trial gained momentum on Tuesday when the two CEOs took the stand - first Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, followed by the start of testimony from Google head Larry Page, who continues to speak today. Ellison was keen to portray Google as a freeloader, claiming he had met former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in 2010 to discuss a joint project in which Google would use Oracle's version of Java in Android, rather than its own variant. However, he said, the two men did not reach agreement, adding that Google is "the only company I know" that hasn't taken a licence for Java.
A Google defence attorney, Robert Van Nest, argued that Oracle had considered launching its own Java-based smartphone platform but had decided to take the cheaper route of suing Google. "They want to share Android's profits without having done a thing to bring that about," he said. Page began his testimony later in the day and will resume today.
Google says it lavished hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of engineering hours on Android, and that Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Java creator Sun when it was acquired by Oracle, will testify that he supported Google's use of Java, and took an "altruistic" view of the technology, rather than regarding it as an asset for monetization.
"Whatever the outcome is going to be, money won't be the most important part," wrote IPR expert Florian Mueller on his Foss Patents blog. "This is about Oracle's long term strategic plans for its Java platform."