Google’s Other Win This Week
As widely reported in the news media, Google won a victory in its long–running fight with Oracle over Oracle’s intellectual property and Google’s Android operating system. A San Francisco jury cleared Google on all of Oracle’s claims of patent infringement, leaving Oracle with only a relatively small victory on its copyright claims.
Meanwhile, in an Atlanta federal district court, a judge dismissed claims by Selex Communications against Google Voice, the service that allows users to place domestic and international calls. (HT: Docket Report) The district judge ruled that Selex could not state a claim for patent infringement because its theory of joint infringement required that cell phone users “control or direct” the conduct of multiple actors, including Google. Selex cited the Google Voice subscription agreement as evidence that cell phone users directed or controlled Google’s actions. The court examined the agreement, which was cited in the complaint, under which Google reserved the right not to complete certain calls placed by subscribers. Given this language, the judge determined that cell phone users did not have the necessary contractual control over Google to support a joint infringement claim.
While that is not the end of the case—Selex’s claims aimed at Google’s Gingerbread mobile operating system remain—we wonder whether this ruling may not have a broader, if quieter, impact on patent litigation than the tooth–and–nails fight between Oracle and Google in San Francisco. It is one thing for a jury to conclude that Google did or did not infringe a competitor’s patent; it would have been another, bigger thing to learn that Google could be held liable for what its users do on the theory that those users are the puppeteers directing and controlling Google’s actions. The Atlanta ruling suggests that such a sweeping theory of liability is overreaching.