Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Flummoxed juries

It's a rest day in the world of chess, so we can return to the world of technology.

Today, we take a trip over to the still-underway clash-of-the-titans intellectual property lawsuit between Oracle and Google over the use of the Java programming language on Android smart phones.

Caleb Garling of Wired Magazine has been following the trial closely, and filed this report on the Wired website today: Jury Flummoxed Over Google-Oracle Patent Fight.

In the article, Garling describes how the court is handling questions of technology:

The jury has been deliberating over the claims for a week now, and on Tuesday, it had two more questions for the court, and both were related to the nuances of “symbolic references” and how they apply to data retrieval.

First, the jury asked whether the ’104 patent covers a symbolic resolution anywhere in the data fields during compilation, and Judge Alsup said that it does not specify a place. Later in the morning, the jury asked whether the use of numeric memory locations in Android compilation precluded the existence of symbolic references.

Judge Alsup turned to lawyers from both sides and asked them to agree on the wording of the answer. Oracle said the answer should be “no” and Google said it should be “yes.” Typically, the sides will negotiate on questions like this before reaching the answer, but recently, as the jury has taken longer and longer to reach a verdict, Alsup has grown increasingly frustrated over how much time this takes.

“Once again, the lawyers are of zero help,” he said. “The sides don’t agree on anything. So I have to figure it out on my own.”

He then called in the jury and gave his best explanation. Judge Alsup revealed last week that while he didn’t know the Java programming language before the case started in August of 2010, he had taken it upon himself to learn the basics. And he indicated that he had coded in other languages prior to the case.

“If you find a numeric reference, that’s a numeric reference. It can’t be both,” he said, clarifying that when examining the references, the jury must examine them in on case by case basis. “For any line item, it’s either numeric or symbolic…But if it’s numeric way [in one place], [another place] might be symbolic.”

In answering both questions for the jury, Judge Alsup seemed frustrated. “It’s not easy for me. And it’s not easy for you. Now go back in the jury room and dig back in,” he said as the jurors resumed their deliberations.

The mind reels at the prospect of this technique for resolving disputes.

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