Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Sarah Jeong Profiles William Alsup, the Judge on Oracle v. Google

Sarah Jeong, the Verge:

On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up.

The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested — 15 million in total — these were the only ones that were “literally” copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle’s interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle’s lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it.

“I couldn’t have told you the first thing about Java before this trial,” said the judge. “But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple.”

Alsup is the kind of judge that’s critical in trials that concern technical matters; he easily saw through Oracle’s claims in a way that less technically-inclined judges likely wouldn’t. I think there’s good reason to encourage judges with experience for highly-technical and nuanced cases like this. However, their expertise in a specific field is reminiscent of when someone with a background in an industry is appointed to regulate that industry: they’re likely to understand it in a way that outsiders may not, but they likely come with baggage. Interestingly, Alsup would be the exception to that — he learned to code as a hobby.