What's at stake in Oracle v. Google?

'Endless litigation': No end in sight for patent, copyright wars

The stakes in Oracle's lawsuit against Google over Android are high for developers, with the recent finding by a jury that Google infringed Oracle's Java copyrights by, among other things, implementing Java's application programming interfaces (APIs] for Android.

There is still no final ruling as to whether APIs are, in fact, copyrightable, nor whether the Android's employment of them is considered 'fair use'. However, the jury has found that Google infringed Oracle's copyright.

The Free Software foundation has issued a statement saying that "Were it grounded in reality, Oracle's claim that copyright law gives them proprietary control over any software that uses a particular functional API would be terrible for free software and programmers everywhere."

FSF's executive director, John Sullivan, has described Oracle's claim as an "unethical and greedy interpretation" of copyright law.

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a way for software to use other software. Most systems are built using layers upon layers of APIs. An API does not define how something is done, only what commands can be given and what data is returned. This is similar to how you would normally use a computer. Pressing the "save" icon in your word processor will (hopefully) result in your file being saved, but you don't actually know what happens behind the scenes to make that happen.

For example, Java has an API for sending commands to the system. If you wanted your code to print out a line you would use the "System.out.printf()" method without actually knowing how it's implemented and only knowing what would happen when you sent that. This also makes it possible to implement interoperable systems: As long as your software provides the same list of features offered by a particular API, and uses the same names and structure, it will be compatible.

Oracle is claiming the list of functions in Java's APIs and their method of organisation is copyrighted and that Android is violating Oracle's copyright by implementing Java's APIs in Android.

Julie Samuels of advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued that a finding that APIs can be copyrighted (as distinct from the code used to implement a particular API), it will "have a profound negative impact on interoperability, and, therefore, innovation".

Samuels argued: "APIs are ubiquitous and fundamental to all kinds of program development. It is safe to say that all software developers use APIs to make their software work with other software. For example, the developers of an application like Firefox use APIs to make their application work with various OSes by asking the OS to do things like make network connections, open files, and display windows on the screen. Allowing a party to assert control over APIs means that a party can determine who can make compatible and interoperable software, an idea that is anathema to those who create the software we rely on everyday."

Oracle's copyright claim against Google might seem rather novel, given that most recent high profile intellectual property litigation has focussed on alleged patent violations. Apple and Samsung have been locked in a series of interlocking battles over mobile patents. It's far from the only clash in the mobile space; for example, Nokia has sued HTC, BlackBerry maker RIM and ViewSonic over alleged patent infringement.

Motorola Mobility and Microsoft have been in court over patents. Yahoo has targeted social networking giant Facebook. Facebook claims Yahoo is violating its patents.

For anyone who cares about innovation, it's a depressing landscape; Dr Matthew Rimmer, associate professor at the Australian National University College of Law, describes it as a series of copyright and patent "wars" in the IT space.

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3 Comments

Vinoda

1

You are highlighting as if it is Oracle's win and making Android developers depressing. In fact, the fact is that judge told jury to assume that APIs are copyrightable and then decide and naturally jury found that Google infringed Oracle's copyright by implementing the Java API in Android. Judge can at any time declare that APIs are not copyrightable and then jury's decision has no value.

Many people suggest that APIs should not be copyrightable. Even an EU court has declared so recently. In such situation, judge will almost declare that APIs are not copyrightable. Thus, Google wins and Android has a clean-room implementation of Java API. That is, no code is copied from Java.

Thus, do not attempt again to depress Android developers.

Sunanda S

2

Yes, the author is attempting to tell again and again that "Google infringed Oracle's copyright" and hence his intention is to depress Android developers. I am not sure if Author has been paid for this article by Android competetors Apple or Microsoft or both !!!

Android developers! The win is Androids!! Hence, there is nothing to worry.

APIs are not copyrightable in history and even EU judge also ruled the same thing. Hence, as Android is a clean-room, fresh, implementation of Java API without any code from Java, Oracle will surely loose this case! Poor Oracle.

Many people has criticized Oracle for this move. They say, Oracle somehow want to grab Android's profit but in vein now, as it cannot even recover its advocates fees from Google. Poor Oracle !!!

James W

3

Hey Author, note that "the jury has found that Google infringed Oracle's copyright" with the assumption that APIs are copyrightable.

Judge had told jury to assume it and proceed.

The fact is that APIs are not copyrightable. Thus, jury's finding has no value as its basic assumption is wrong.

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