IP Law Daily Supreme Court to weigh in on copyright fight between Google and Oracle
Friday, November 15, 2019

Supreme Court to weigh in on copyright fight between Google and Oracle

By Thomas Long, J.D.

Court grants Google’s request for review of whether copyright protection extends to a software interface and whether Google’s utilization of Oracle’s Java API to develop Android was fair use.

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a petition by Google LLC seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that overturned a jury’s finding that Google LLC was entitled to a fair use defense against copyright infringement claims by Oracle America, Inc. regarding Google’s use of Oracle’s Java Application Programming Interface (API) packages in its Android operating system. Google’s petition for a writ of certiorari asked the Court to consider: (1) whether copyright protection extends to a software interface and (2) whether Google’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program was fair use.

Oracle filed suit in the Northern District of California alleging that Google’s unauthorized use of 37 packages of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (API packages) in Android infringed Oracle’s patents and copyrights. An API package is a collection of classes; each class contains methods and other elements. Each method performs a specific function, sparing a programmer the need to write Java code from scratch to perform that function. At issue on appeal to the Federal Circuit were API packages from Java SE Version 1.4 and Version 5.0. The Federal Circuit had previously held that the API packages were entitled to copyright protection. Google did not dispute that it copied the declaring code of the 37 Java API packages. It also copied the "Single Sign-On" (SSO) of the Java API packages. Google then wrote its own implementing code.

A jury found in favor of Google based on its fair use defense. Oracle appealed to the Federal Circuit, which reversed, rejecting the fair use defense. The appellate court held that Google’s use of Oracle’s Java API interfaces in its Android operating system, while not in bad faith, was highly commercial and non-transformative. Although the nature of the work was primarily functional, in the court’s view Google used a substantively significant portion of the code and copied far more lines than was necessary for offering Java compatibility. Most importantly, Google deprived Oracle of a significant potential market in the mobile phone market segment, said the court.

Google, in its petition for review, asserted that the case presented two important questions concerning the copyrightability and fair use of software interfaces. The first question was whether copyright protection extends to a software interface—lines of computer code that are needed to enable developers to operate prewritten libraries of code for various tasks. The second question was whether Google’s specific use of the API packages in the context of creating a new computer program (the Android operating system) constituted fair use. Google further maintained that the lower courts need guidance on the fair-use doctrine in the context of computer code and that this case involved a high-profile dispute between two leading technology companies.

On April 29, 2019, the Solicitor General was invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States. The Solicitor General’s amicus curiae brief was filed on September 27.

The petition for certiorari in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., Dkt. No. 18-956, was granted November 15, 2019.

Attorneys: Kannon K. Shanmugam (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP) for Google LLC. E. Joshua Rosenkranz (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP) for Oracle America, Inc. Noel J. Francisco, Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, for United States.

Companies: Google LLC; Oracle America, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory Copyright TechnologyInternet

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