Google's Android operating system is behind the world's most used smartphone platform. In 2010 Oracle sued Google claiming that they had improperly incorporated parts of Java into Android. A San Francisco federal judge had decided that Oracle could not claim copyright protection on parts of Java, but on Friday the three-judge Federal Circuit panel reversed that ruling. Report Updated May 11, 2014 with Scribd document of the Court's ruling to assist readers in this emotionally charged case.
Google had argued that software should only be allowed to be patented, not copyrighted. However, O'Malley wrote that the Federal Circuit is bound to respect copyright protection for software, "until either the Supreme Court or Congress tells us otherwise."
The decision is set to revive Oracle's claim for damages of as much as $1bn and will introduce a new uncertainty for Google's Android operating system, which has become the world's most widely used smartphone software platform.
Pamela Samuelson, a professor at the University of California's School of Law in Berkeley wrote a brief supporting Google in the case Samuelson said that the Federal Circuit's decision means software companies now face uncertainty in determining how to write interoperable computer programs that do not violate copyright. Samuelson added that "What we have is a decision that will definitely shake up the software industry."
The dispute arose after the companies failed to agree terms for a Java licensing deal. Google went on to replicate parts of the Java software anyway, so that developers would still find it easy to write apps to run on Android – a move intended to expand the appeal of the platform and increase its chances of rivalling Apple's iPhone. Oracle said Google's Android trampled on its rights to the structure of 37 Java APIs.
The case turned on APIs, or pieces of code that let programs run on top of operating systems like Android. By limiting the ability of others to reverse-engineer APIs, Google claimed that a decision in favour of Oracle would make it harder to create technologies that operate well together, holding back innovation.
In hailing Friday's decision, however, Oracle countered that greater legal protection for software code would boost innovation, not hamper it. "The Federal Circuit's opinion is a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs," it said.
Google said after the hearing: "We're disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options." The case was referred back to the lower court to decide whether Google was entitled to a defence of "fair use", which allows limited copying in certain circumstances.
Some are saying that this is good news for both Apple and Microsoft, but in the end it's really about Oracle cornering Google into paying a Billion dollars for copyrights to their API's. With Samsung preparing to launch a Tizen OS based smartphone in the coming months – Google can't afford to have doubt lingering over Android as they prepare for their Google I/O developer conference starting on June 25. In the big picture, a billion dollars to Google is only about a month's worth of profits. Then again, Google and Samsung just seem to think they're above the law, so they're likely to play up their PR card of fighting for the little guy with open source. That usually gets their fan base beating their chests for war.
Whether there could be any benefit to Apple in all of this is a little premature. Yet you have to wonder if Apple's legal team is now thinking of using the copyright angle for their current and future software as an added measure of protecting their breakthroughs. If it's another way of punishing the likes of Samsung for infringing on Apple's breakthroughs, then it could only be a good thing.
Last year we reported on Apple finding proof of patent infringement right in Samsung's source code which led to the latest patent infringement case. Whether copyright protection could have added anything to their latest case victory is unknown at this time.
In the end, we applaud Oracle for their legal victory against Google, though it's not a total win just yet. As noted earlier, the case has been referred back to the lower court to decide whether Google is entitled to a defence of "fair use," which allows limited copying in certain circumstances.
That's the next and last hurdle that will have to be crossed and both sides of this case will be on edge until a clear cut answer arrives. Yet Google trampling on 37 of Oracle's Java APIs would seem to go beyond "fair use," and with the three-judge Federal Circuit Panel voting 3 to 0 to reverse Google's win, it would seem to be going Oracle's way. But you never know how the next judge will rule, so it's far from being a slam dunk.
Which way will the court decide? Only time will tell. Until then, how do you see this possibly playing out? Send in your comments below.
Report Update May 11, 2014: The Ruling in Oracle v. Google 5/9/14
Below is a Scribd document that presents the ruling in the Oracle v. Google case in full to assist our readers understand this case that is emotionally charged. I found that one of the interesting segments begins on page 45 titled "Google's Interoperability Arguments are Irrelevant to Copyrightablity." (Note: if you're reading this on a mobile device, tap the "Scribd" logo at the bottom left corner of the document below. This will lead you to a free Scribd reader app required to read these kinds of documents.)
The Court's Conclusion: "For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 Java API packages at issue are entitled to copyright protection. We therefore reverse the district court’s copyrightability determination with instructions to reinstate the jury’s infringement verdict. Because the jury hung on fair use, we remand Google’s fair use defense for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
With respect to Google’s cross-appeal, we affirm the district court’s decisions: (1) granting Oracle’s motion for JMOL as to the eight decompiled Java files that Google copied into Android; and (2) denying Google’s motion for JMOL with respect to the rangeCheck function. Accordingly, we affirm-in-part, reverse-in-part, and remand for further proceedings."
AFFIRMED-IN-PART, REVERSED-IN-PART, AND REMANDED
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Unrelated Side Note: Another unhappy Samsung developer wrote to us about Why you should never take part in Samsung Challenges. Some may find it interesting.