Judge tells Google: Try Again

U.S. Judge William Alsup sparked a flurry of speculation  in some tech circles a couple of weeks ago, when he issued an unusual order in connection with the epic Oracle v Google dispute over intellectual property and Google’s Android software.  Now the judge has made it clear he’s not satisfied with Google’s response.

Alsup had directed each side to disclose the names of any pundits or bloggers who commented publicly on the lawsuit while being paid by either company.  Both companies filed their initial responses last week,  and despite widespread anticipation, neither contained any surprise revelations about paid shills in the news media or blogosphere.

Oracle did confirm that it has a consulting contract with Florian Mueller, a  prolific blogger and commenter on patent issues who has written sympathetically about Oracle’s position in the Android case.  Both Oracle and Mueller said his contract  – which Mueller disclosed in his blog last spring – was unrelated to his commentary on the legal dispute.  (Mueller also notes that he’s been critical of Oracle in the past.)

Google, for its part, said it had not paid anyone to pontificate on the dispute. But the search company acknowledged it has given money to a variety of trade groups and other organizations, and added:  “Google is aware that representatives of some of these organizations have elected to comment on the case.”

That wasn’t enough for Alsup.  Oracle has accused Google of maintaining an “extensive network of influencers to help shape public perceptions” on the dispute, and the judge apparently wants to know more.

Alsup issued second order on Monday, saying Google had “failed to comply” with his first instruction.  The judge clarified that he wasn’t just  looking for people who were paid directly to comment on the case.  He also wants to hear about any commenters who received any compensation at all.

Legal experts say it’s unclear whether the judge has much authority on this point.  But Alsup wrote,  “Just as a treatise on the law may influence the courts, public commentary that purports to be independent may have an influence on the courts and/or their staff if only in subtle ways. If a treatise author or blogger is paid by a litigant, should not that relationship be known?”

The trial in the case ended weeks ago, with a series of jury findings and judicial  orders that generally went against Oracle’s claims of patent and copyright infringement.  But Oracle is pursuing an appeal.


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