Oracle wins appeal in Google case over Android-Java copyright

It’s been a whole week since legal news about tech giants fighting, so a federal appeals court has kindly stepped in to fill the void in our hearts: Oracle has scored a win over Google in a years-old case, and the decision has implications for software developers.

Two years ago, Google walked away the victor after Oracle sued it for patent and copyright violations related to the use of programming system Java in Android, Google’s smartphone operating system. Oracle, which acquired Java as part of its purchase of Sun Microsystems, had been seeking $6 billion, but it managed to win only minor damages. An expert told our own Brandon Bailey that in the end — there had been partial verdicts in the weeks-long trial — the outcome of the fight was “absolutely the best possible case for Google.”

U.S. District Judge William Alsup decided then that copyright law did not apply to Java’s API (application programming interface), although he stressed that his decision was based “on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.” Today, Alsup’s decision was reversedby a three-judge Federal Circuit panel. (Ruling PDF.)

The decision could make it more difficult for software developers to build upon APIs, which could hurt innovation.

But back to Oracle and Google. What now? The court sent the case back Alsup, who must determine whether Google’s use of the 37 APIs in question is covered under fair use. Patent blogger Florian Mueller analyzes today’s ruling and says: “There may not be further proceedings if Google recognizes that Oracle is now on the winning track, and finally takes the license it was already negotiating years ago. That would be the most reasonable outcome.”


Photo from Reuters archives


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