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Google and Oracle present closing arguments in battle over Java

Attorneys for Oracle and Google presented their closing arguments today in a lawsuit over Google’s use of Java APIs owned by Oracle in Android. Oracle accused Google of stealing a collection of APIs, while Google suggested that Android transformed the smartphone market and Oracle sued out of desperation when its own smartphone attempts failed to launch.

The case is expected to have sprawling impacts on the software industry. If the jury finds that Google did indeed steal code from Oracle, it could disturb the way engineers at small startups build their products and expose them to litigation from major companies whose programming languages they use.

Before sending the jurors home last week, presiding Judge William Aslup joked that they should not look up what an API is online over the weekend. It was a lighthearted instruction meant to caution jurors against doing their own research in the case, but struck at a fear that’s probably plaguing both legal teams — what if the jury still doesn’t understand the technology at the heart of the case?

At issue in Oracle’s lawsuit is whether or not Google’s implementation of 37 Java APIs in Android was fair use. Google has argued that Sun Microsystems, which created Java, always intended for its programming language and accompanying APIs to be used freely. Oracle purchased Sun in 2010 and claimed that Sun executives believed Google had infringed their intellectual property and simply hadn’t brought legal action.

An appeals court has already decided that the Java APIs in question are copyrightable. This case, which has stretched over two weeks in a district court in San Francisco, aims to determine whether Google’s implementation of the APIs can be considered fair use. Beginning this afternoon, the jury will consider several factors — most importantly, whether Google transformed Oracle’s code when it built Android, and whether the introduction of Android harmed Oracle’s business.

Harry Potter or hamburger

Before the two tech titans can clearly argue whether Google’s use of the APIs was fair, they need to agree on how to explain APIs to their lay audience in the jury box — and they haven’t done that. Even as Oracle and Google’s legal teams laid out their final arguments today, they bickered over how best to describe an API.

Google’s witnesses and lawyers offered a litany of explanations for APIs. Google attorneys recycled a filing cabinet analogy from the first round of Oracle v. Google, in which they compared the packages, classes and methods contained within the Java API library as cabinets, drawers and individual manila files.

Other witnesses for Google entertained their own comparisons: Jonathan Schwartz, the former CEO of Sun, explained APIs by comparing them to hamburgers. Many restaurants have the word “hamburger” on their menu, he said, but the recipes — in the world of APIs, the implementations — are unique. Other witnesses sought to compare APIs to such ubiquitous items like wall outlets and the gas pedals of cars. No matter the comparison, the point was the same: Google never expected that its use of something so common would become so contested.

In a bid to portray APIs as a creative endeavor worthy of strong copyright protection, Oracle’s lead attorney, Peter Bicks, compared them to Harry Potter novels, saying the packages, classes and methods could be understood as the series, books and chapters