Google CEO Larry Page evasive in Oracle patent suit testimony

SAN FRANCISCO — Larry Page, the co-founder of Google Inc. who returned as its chief executive one year ago, has commanded respect for making decisive, bold moves to recharge the search giant.

But the usually self-assured Page appeared uncomfortable on the witness stand Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. He was there to dispute allegations that his company infringed Oracle Corp.'s patents and copyrights to build its Android mobile software, which now powers more than 300 million mobile devices.

It’s a high-stakes legal fight for Google, which is banking on Android to help it become as dominant on mobile devices as it is on desktop computers. A flurry of lawsuits over Android could slow Google’s momentum in mobile and increase the cost of making Android phones.

Dressed in a suit and tie — a rarity for the tech executive, who sports casual attire at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters — Page rarely made eye contact with Oracle’s feisty attorney. That’s David Boies, a veteran litigator who humbled another multibillionaire, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, in 1998 during the federal government’s antitrust lawsuit against that company.

Page answered “I don’t recall” to so many of Boies’ questions that business news channel CNBC summed up his testimony with the headline “Blank Page?”

During his testimony, which lasted nearly an hour, Page repeatedly denied knowing the details of documents and negotiations and deflected questions. Page did, however, insist that Google had done nothing wrong. He said Google tried to negotiate a deal to license Java, the programming language that Oracle obtained in 2010 when it bought Sun Microsystems for $7.3 billion, but conceded that it never had. Google used Java to build its Android mobile software.

“We really wanted to use Sun’s technology,” Page said. “It would have saved us a lot of time and trouble to use Sun’s technology. When we weren’t able to have our business partnership, we went down our own path.”

Boies was trying to prove that Page and other Google executives knew as far back as 2005 that they would have to pay licensing fees for Java. It was unclear if Page’s foggy memory worked for or against him with the jurors.

“His denial of knowledge and recollection contrasts with evidence of his personal involvement with the decision to use Java without a license,” said Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst and author of a popular blog on patents. “There’s a lot at stake here not only for his company but also for his own reputation.”

Page quickly left the federal courthouse after wrapping up his testimony and refused to answer questions. It was his second day on the stand. He testified briefly Tuesday before the court recessed, forcing his return Wednesday. U.S. District Judge William Alsup told Page that he may have to return to testify again before the trial ends.

Legal experts said Page’s testimony could hurt his credibility if jurors interpret his evasiveness as a lack of candor.

“I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that people don’t remember details of every email they sent or received,” said Tyler Ochoa, professor at the High Technology Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. “But certainly when it comes to something as important to Google as the use of Java and the development of Android, you’d think that’s something he would have better recall about.”

Oracle accuses Google of infringing copyrights and patents for Java in creating the Android software. It’s seeking $1 billion in damages and a court order that would force Google to pay licensing fees or stop using Java technology to run Android. The legal showdown between the two Silicon Valley powerhouses, which could last 10 weeks, got underway Monday.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison testified Tuesday that he met with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in 2010 to discuss a joint project in which Google would use Oracle’s version of Java in its Android software, but the companies could not reach an agreement.

Google is “the only company I know” that hasn’t taken a license for Java, Ellison said.

Oracle is looking to get a piece of the lucrative smartphone market with the Java technology that Sun Microsystems created in the mid-1990s to write programs that work on different operating systems and devices.

A lawyer defending Google told jurors that Oracle explored taking on Google in the smartphone market but decided to sue its would-be rival instead.

It’s hard to predict how juries will react, said Pamela Jones, founder of the blog Groklaw. During his testimony, Ellison contradicted statements that he made in his deposition, she said.

“You can’t predict juries,” Jones said. “But telling the truth tends to matter to juries.”

Associated Press was used in compiling this report.