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NYC Litigation Blog

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Google Asks the Supreme Court to Weigh In On Its Battle with Oracle

Should Google be made to pay for using portions of Oracle’s code?

What has been called the “copyright case of the decade” could soon be headed to the Supreme Court.  The saga of Oracle versus Google continues, as Google has now requested the nation’s highest court to hear the ongoing matter. Over 175 companies have expressed their support for the Supreme Court to take up the action.  Should the Supreme Court take the case, it will become a major decision to be referred to for decades in the field of copyright law. Below, our New York City copyright infringement lawyers discuss the history of the battle between Google and Oracle, along with what the case might mean for you.

Oracle v. Google

Back in 2010, the Oracle v. Google case begin when Oracle sued Google in the District Court for the Northern District of California.  Oracle claimed that Google infringed its copyright on Java APIs in its Android OS platform. Google, in creating the Android OS, used what is termed as APIs or Application Programming Interfaces.  These APIs allow for different programs to communicate with each other. Google used the same organization, names, and functionality as the Java APIs when making its mobile phone technology, which Oracle claims is infringement.

The district court judge determined that APIs are not subject to copyright.  The judge found that to allow Oracle to lay claim to a utilitarian and function set of symbols as the APIs provide would interfere with innovation and collaboration. According to Judge Alsup, the coding language of APIs cannot be subject to copyright.

However, Google’s victory was short-lived. On appeal, the decision was reversed.  The federal circuit held that APIs are copyrightable, though it did not foreclose the possibility that Google had a defense.  Google unsuccessfully sought Supreme Court review before the case returned to the district court. A jury found that Google’s use of the APIs was fair use.  Again Oracle appealed, and again the matter was reversed. This time, the appellate court held that Google’s use was not fair use as a matter of law. Now, Google is again making a bid for the Supreme Court.

The Oracle case could cost Google substantially if it is made to pay Oracle for its use of the APIs.  Furthermore, the case could have broader implications. In the tech world, APIs are used in nearly every mobile and online technology.  Allowing for copyright protection could impact major tech companies, which in turn could affect functionality and pricing of mobile phones and other devices.

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