Friday, 18 May 2012

Patent Wars: Google V Oracle Judge Is A Programmer

I've been keeping an eye on the ongoing Google V Oracle case because of the disturbing implications for OpenSource programs if the jury finds that APIs are copyrightable. Now it has emerged that the judge is a programmer, but instead of tossing the case, he's letting it continue and in the latest set of instructions to the jury, he's telling them to decide whether or not Google infringed on Oracle's patents before moving on to the damages phase.

Will it make a difference?

Well he knows a lot about programming and what's involved, and so far Judge William Alsup has demonstrated an admirable refusal to suffer fools gladly.

I have done, and still do, a significant amount of programming in other languages. I've written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times before. I could do it, you could do it. The idea that someone would copy that when they could do it themselves just as fast, it was an accident. There's no way you could say that was speeding them along to the marketplace. You're one of the best lawyers in America, how could you even make that kind of argument? - From IProgrammer

Just for that, I love the guy, but there's more:

Judge: rangeCheck! All it does is make sure the numbers you're inputting are within a range, and gives them some sort of exceptional treatment.

This is gold, but it doesn't mean he's made up his mind yet, so there's still some cause for concern. It really depends on whether or not he's on the side of maximalism over OpenSource (there's no possible way he doesn't realise what's at stake). Here's an example of what we're up against:

The Federal Circuit has been strongly pro-patent since its inception in 1982. It was the court that opened the floodgates for software patents with a series of permissive decisions during the 1990s. And it was the court that gave the green light to patents on medical diagnostic techniques, only to be overruled by the Supreme Court in March. - Ars Technica

And William Haskell Alsup (born 1945) is a United States federal judge. He's part of a culture of upward ratcheting BUT he's a programmer. Is he willing to break with the pack and put an end to this nonsense or set a bad legal precedent that'll open the floodgates to more trolling and threaten OpenSource?

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