Google has recently come out triumphant over a long-haul legal battle of six years with the software giant Oracle Corporation. However, this is not the end of this war; Oracle’s representative lawyers say that the company plans to file an appeal. The software company claims that Google Inc. has infringed its copyright by reusing 37 of 166 packages (11,500 lines) of the Java application program interface (API) in the Android software for smart phones. They also further claimed that such use of their Java code has resulted in Google to violate its extent “fair use” and thus, Oracle sought damages up to $9 billion.
Android has become the most popular mobile operating system with an approximate of 1.4 billion monthly active users worldwide and a market share of more than 80%. Users download around 65 billion apps in a year (2015 report).
Nevertheless, the jury ruled in favor of Google, and was of the view that, the use of 37 Java APIs (application programming interfaces) in question, was in fact “fair use”. As most web developers, rely on this free access to APIs to develop third party services, this news would come as a relief to them.
As Oracle Corporation owns the original code language, Java, they can claim ownership over the systems that run using their code language or even parts of it and the claim will vary respectively. Therefore, the company claimed intellectual property rights in that API by virtue of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems (the original developer of the Java Script). Consecutively this puts the developers of application programs under heat, while others like Google’s developers can always call in their legal defense, many run the same risk of infringement on the Android platform as they utilised the same Java API packages to develop their applications for the Android platform.
When the Java Language was developed, it was partly used by Android to build its APIs. Java was developed by Sun Microsystems in the 1990s and was one of the most widely used code languages. Later, Sun was bought in software conglomerate Oracle in 2010. The software company negotiated over various deals to allow Google to license the use of their Java APIs but failed. Later Oracle sued Google on the group of copyright and patent infringement, thus locking horns in a six-year legal war.
The first ever verdict went to Google, back in 2012 when a Washington District Court Judge held that, APIs cannot be copyrighted, immediately running over Oracle’s claim of infringement over their intellectual property. In the order, judge Allsup described the case as “the first of the so-called ‘smartphone war’ cases” and dismissed Oracle’s claim of infringement by saying that “the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.” This order was followed by a jury trial, which also, went in favor of Google, then another copyright trial, which ended with a split verdict.
Nevertheless, the war does not end here. In 2013 the federal circuit court of appeals, heard Oracle’s case only to reverse the previous ruling by Allsup, in May 2014. The circuit court directed the case to be retried at the district court, and to focus on whether Google’s actions and use of Oracle’s intellectual property was within the reasonable limit of “fair use”.
Since 1992, many courts have rejected copyright claims in program interface specifications. Since then the software industry grew and thrived because the court rulings met the industry norms, allowing scope for creativity and innovation amongst software developers. And to further build upon existing programs and platforms to offer consumers better software and operating systems with a more user friendly interface in smart phones and other computing devices.
Although the appellate court that heard Oracle’s appeal from the previous verdict for Google, where Google had challenged the ability to copyright the Java API packages by an owner company. Despite many thinking that the appellate court was wrong to rule that the Java API packages Google reused in Android were, in fact copyrightable, Google had another trick up its sleeve, the defense of “fair use” which succeeded.