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Inside the Oracle vs. Google courtroom: questions, code, and a file cabinet

Inside the Oracle vs. Google courtroom: questions, code, and a file cabinet


We take a look inside the courtroom of Oracle's infringement case against Google, where technology-laden programming discussions mix with a lively judge and the jury that must dissect it all.

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Phillip Burton Federal Building and US Courthouse
Phillip Burton Federal Building and US Courthouse

The infringement trial between Oracle and Google kicked off last week at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, and it's already featured appearances from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Google co-founder Larry Page, and an array of other witnesses. We've covered the strategy of both companies, but what about the experience of sitting inside the courtroom itself?

The judge vowed to have loud typists removed

Let's start with the most important part: as beautiful as the courtroom may be, it features the most uncomfortable wooden benches known to man. US District Court Judge William Alsup is presiding over the trial, someone known for keeping his courtroom as sedate as possible; the day of Ellison's testimony, he admonished the journalists present for typing on their laptops too loudly, vowing to have any clicky-clack offenders removed. He offers a surprisingly soft touch when it comes to the jurors themselves, however, and it's one that's needed in this case. The sheer amount of technical background being presented — much of the trial revolves around the intricacies of Java code — can be overwhelming, and even led to Google counsel Robert Van Nest wheeling in a file cabinet as a prop in order to explain Java packages. With lengthy stretches of jargon quickly piling atop one another, it appears at times that the jurors, to say nothing of the attorneys and media, are struggling with the level of detail. When the person in the row ahead of you is buying tickets on StubHub during testimony, you know you're in the weeds.

It doesn't help that some of Oracle's technical experts have grown increasingly frustrated at the inability of the courtroom to understand the nuances in play. With witnesses speaking faster in frustration, the court reporter has been forced to ask them to slow down so they can take note of an ever-lengthening list of acronyms: TCK, JVM, JCP, CLDC. It makes the moments of clarity all the more striking, however. Google's Joshua Bloch seemed to score one of the biggest charisma coups thus far by explaining, in ways a regular human could understand, how APIs are used to perform various functions. By the time Bloch finished writing out a working example, the jury's furrowed brows and notepad-scribbling had turned to nodding heads and smiles (Bloch's irreverent power-to-the-people fist pump didn't seem to hurt, either).

Several Google employees have proven to have short memories

That's not to say technical specificity has been the sole cause of tension. With so much of Oracle's evidence coming from internal Google emails, there's been a heavy emphasis on explaining the intentions behind various documents. Several Google employees have proven to have remarkably short memories, but none more so than CEO Larry Page himself. Avoiding eye contact during much of his testimony last week, Page was unable to recall so many seemingly-vital details that Alsup commented "well, he didn't remember quite a lot of things." The jurors remained admirably poker-faced at the dig, though the same couldn't be said for those watching the trial.

Which team has the upper hand thus far? It's hard to say, with both sides scoring points and no single witness delivering a clear knockout blow. Judging from the jury's reaction to Friday's summaries, however, there is one legal team that is keeping jurors engaged with gut-check appeals and expertly-timed comic relief, and another that is leaving them cold with earnest explanations of scenarios that could very well be true. The former team belongs to Google. With high-profile witnesses like Android chief Andy Rubin scheduled to appear later today, things should only get more interesting from here on out. We'll be there to let you know what happens — and to find out if Van Nest's file cabinet makes another surprise appearance.