File this under "things that look good on paper." On Tuesday, a federal judge for the Northern District of California issued an order forcing Oracle and Google, in their fight over various Java patents allegedly infringed by Android, to reduce the number of patent claims and defenses thereto to a "triable" number. That number? Three. And Google will be allowed eight "prior art references" to defend against those claims. (Note: A "prior art reference" is a way of showing that a patent was trying to patent something someone else had already invented prior to the filing, a complete defense against patent infringement, invalidating the patent in question)
Oracle's complaint ended up amounting to 132 patent claims against Google's Android mobile operating system - a staggering number for any court. Google, in response, asserted "hundreds of prior art references" in defending itself against those claims. In reality, it would take a jury years to decide on that many claims, making a trial a practical impossibility.
Why would it take so long? Patent infringement claims typically involve the presentation of very technical evidence, and in the case of high tech patents, the difficulty of illustrating such claims (and defenses thereto) to a lay jury takes a long time. Google and Oracle can't indefinitely tie up a sizable portion of a judge's entire career (or a juror's life) on a single suit - not even American courts can justify that kind of inefficiency.
So, the judge did what was reasonable - he has forced Oracle to get down to the "nitty gritty," as it were, and assert its three strongest patent claims against Google in a series of negotiations over the next couple of months. Why isn't this that big of a deal? Because Oracle isn't seeking individual damages on these patents, essentially - it wants an injunction from a jury trial or a licensing fee agreement through settlement.
Once the parties decide to throw out the less important patent claims and defenses, a full jury trial can succeed in a (more) efficient manner.
Does this help Google? Sure - it means they don't have to defend themselves against a mountain of claims, reducing the amount of work their attorneys end up doing. But does it mean Oracle's claims are any less valid? Not at all - the judge is just telling Oracle to cut the crap and stop spamming the justice system.
It's also worth noting that Oracle can challenge this order on appeal.