The federal judge overseeing the Java patent litigation between Oracle and Google has said it might be necessary to delay a trial until US authorities finish re-examining a number of Oracle's patents, a process that could take years.
Oracle sued Google in August, alleging that its Android mobile OS infringes on seven of Oracle's Java patents. Google has denied any wrongdoing.
In February, Google asked the U.S. Patent & Trade Office to perform the re-examinations, which on average take 26 months to be completed, according to USPTO figures.
But in reality, re-examinations can take three or four years, and some have been in process for 10 years, one expert previously said.
"The larger the number of patents and patent claims at trial, the greater will be the burden on the jury's ability to comprehend and to reach a just and correct verdict," U.S. District court Judge William Alsup wrote in a filing this week. "The larger the number of patents and patent claims asserted, moreover, the more practical it will then seem to simply stay this case and see which claims survive PTO re-examination."
Alsup had previously asked both Oracle and Google to reduce the number of claims each is making, in order to resolve the case more quickly.
While Alsup initially suggested that Oracle lower its claims from 132 to three, in subsequent filings Oracle attorneys have asked for the opportunity to present up to 21 claims at trial, which is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 31.
While the court "doubts that the number of claims Oracle would ask a jury to learn and to evaluate is 'triable,' it is premature to reach a final conclusion," and Oracle will be allowed to "make its final proposal for a three-week trial of all issues at the final pretrial conference," Alsup said in his ruling this week.
The ruling has positive and negative aspects for Oracle, according to open-source advocate Florian Mueller, who has been following the case closely.
"Come October ... Oracle will find itself in front of both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is the possibility of a trial in the very near term. That could put significant pressure on Google to settle, although I wouldn't be surprised if Google actually took its chances and let this case go to trial," Mueller wrote in a blog post this week. "But the stick is that the judge could still stay the case pending reexamination."
However, the ruling also gives Oracle time to convince Alsup that all of its claims are distinct enough to merit inclusion in the trial, Mueller added.
Oracle and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.