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A federal judge in San Francisco has undermined a chief premise of Oracle's multimillion dollar dispute against Google over its Android mobile system.

Oracle Corp. had accused Google Inc. of copyright infringement in using "application programming interfaces," or APIs, that help Oracle's Java software work effectively. The jury found Google infringed on those APIs, but it couldn't agree on whether Google was covered under "fair use" protections in U.S. law.

Now, U.S. District Judge William Alsup says Google's use of the APIs isn't covered by copyright law in the first place.

The effect of Thursday's ruling is limited because a jury had earlier reached an impasse on the issue of fair use. But the ruling could be important in any appeals.

Oracle had no immediate comment.

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