Tech woes stymie jury in Oracle case aginst Google

'You should have tested it out yourselves,' an irritated judge told lawyers for both sides

District Court San Francisco
The U.S. district courthouse in San Francisco Credit: James Niccolai

As if the jury deciding the Oracle v. Google trial didn't have enough on its plate already.

Deliberations were interrupted Tuesday when the 10-member panel ran into technical problems trying to review evidence from the case given to them on a PC.

The jurors apparently wanted to look at some of the source code for Google’s Android OS and couldn’t get the large files to open.

“You lawyers should not have done this to the jury; you should have tested it out yourselves,” an irritated Judge William Alsup told lawyers for the two sides, who huddled with the court’s IT specialist to try to figure out the problem.

The IT person seemed momentarily flummoxed that the jury would want to look at source code until the judge told him it was central to the trial.

“You all have sabotaged the system so bad I don’t know what to do,” Alsup told the lawyers at one point, threatening to make them print out the millions of lines of code on paper.

In the end, the lawyers wrote some instructions for the jury telling them how to open the files.

Deliberations in the case began Monday after lawyers for the two sides gave their closing arguments. The jury has to decide whether Google’s use of Java in Android was protected under the "fair use" exemption in copyright law, or whether Google needed a license from Sun — now owned by Oracle.

If the jury decides Google’s use of Java was fair, the case is over — pending a likely appeal by Oracle. If they decide it was not, the trial moves to a second phase to calculate damages.

The jurors meet at the San Francisco federal court from early morning until 1 p.m. each day, and they can review evidence from the trial to help them with their task. After the computer problems Tuesday, they broke for the day without a decision. It's not known how long they'll take, but it could be a few more days.

The jury can also submit questions to the judge, and they had a few for him on Thursday, leading to more tension between Alsup and the lawyers.

The jury wanted to know if they could take their hand-written notes from the trial home to review in the evening. Oracle was fine with that, but Google’s lawyers said the jury ought to deliberate as a whole.

The judge didn’t like that. “It’s not even evidence, it’s just their handwritten notes,” he snapped. “I’m very suspicious -- you must think you're gonna lose this case.”

"No, your honor," Google’s lawyer said, but stuck to her position.

"This is one of the best juries in the history of our courthouse," Alsup said. "They're not going to deliberate with someone else; that's a fallacious argument."

The jury also wanted to know if individual members can review evidence alone if they arrive at the court early or stay late, and if they can take home with them instructions given to them by the court.

Neither side wanted to grant those requests, and Alsup again grew irritated.

"It’s up the jury how they decide this case," he told the lawyers.

In the end, he asked both sides to put their objections in writing by midnight. For the time being, all three jury requests were denied.

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