Oracle, an American technology company, based in California, took Google to court for copyright infringement. According to the Californian tech company, Android, the reigning IOS in the smartphone market, was illegally using at least 37 Java application programming interfaces and 7,000 lines of “declaring” code. However, the jury from San Francisco cleared the accused of all charges on May 26th, 2016.

Oracle America, Inc. was asking for $8.8 billion in damages, and nobody let’s go that kind of money without a fight. The company is expected to appeal today’s decision, so it is too soon to say “it’s over,” especially when you take into account this lawsuit has been hanging around since May 2012.

The law suit was originally presented in 2012, but the judge decided that such a thing could not be protected by a patent. Image Credit: Xakat Android
Oracle initially presented the lawsuit against Google in 2012, but the judge decided that a patent could not protect such a thing. Image Credit: Xakat Android

On May 9, 2014, the Federal Circuit partially reversed the judge’s decision, and the company based in California quickly resumed the process. Even though Google went to the Supreme Court to appeal the reversal, the motion was denied, and a second trial was scheduled to May 9, 2016.

Oracle based the lawsuit on a very alarming proposal that says any application programming interfaces (API) are copyrightable, and a court in the United States decided this is a good idea, and made it possible which creates a lot of problems for software developers.

API is an established set of routines, protocols, hand tools for writing software apps, especially for mobile devices. Creating them was a process of trial and error that took a lot of time for a lot of people, and that is why initiatives like Java were released as open software meaning anyone could use it without paying a cent. It’s a little similar to cars. After years and years of experimenting, companies have established processes considered as the best practices in the industry that benefit both customers and sellers. Now, imagine that somebody managed to register the patent for “4 wheeled cars”. This would be disastrous for developers.

The implications are immense as most apps come from independent developers who don’t have the resources to pay for copyright. Yes, not all apps are gold, but if every designer has to choose between paying copyrights or “reinventing the wheel”, the diversity of programs would significantly decrease. However, there are exceptions as some carefully written codes with specific purposes can be protected by copyrights.

“Fair use.”

The case presented by Oracle was clear and straight forward; Google wanted a license agreement with Sun, the company that created Java, but they failed and used the APIs. They defended this to the end, in despite that Sun congratulated Google for adapting Java, and its interfaces, to Android via the blog post. In fact, Google’s lawyers presented the post as evidence that there was no problem, but it was ruled out.

“They knew they were breaking the rules, they knew they were taking shortcuts, and they knew it was wrong,” Peter Bicks, an attorney for Oracle.

On the other side of the coin was Google’s legal team. Their first strategy was pointing out APIs could not be protected by a patent, and we know how that ended. So in this second trial, they bet on the ‘fair use’ clause. Under this ruling, some content can be copied under some circumstances; for example, people can criticize or make a parody of something without having to fear a lawsuit. In the end, it paid off, as the jury decided no harm was made to Sun or ccOracle in anyway, and the defendant was cleared of the charges.

Oracle recently loss the API/Java CopyRight case
Oracle recently loss the API/Java CopyRight case against the search engine giant company Google. Image Credit: Fortune

Far from over

The entire community of program designers might be celebrating the result of the trial, but it may be too soon. The suing party is going to appeal, and if the Supreme Court ultimately decides that any API can be patented, the ever-increasing growth in programming will be suddenly stopped. Why? Then again imagine that the company that invented the mouse decided to copyright it.

After literally millions of lawsuits, companies would stop making them, and a new monopoly would be established. However, this is a very mild example because, ccc inc the last 40 years of programming, designers have been using everyone’s apps to improve theirs or to create new ones. Even if developers could start doing everything from scratch again, the resulting lawsuit war would be devastating.

Why is this important for the customer? If Oracle ultimately wins, developers will have to pay loyalties. Or in other words, bye bye free, cheap and varied apps, welcome to expensive Apple-like programs. 

Is there a legal base for what Oracle wants to do?

Unfortunately, yes. Android runs on Java, which is open source, but the 37 APIs and 7,000 lines of “declaring” code Google also used were carefully designed and are different from the ones considered essential and necessary. They tried to make an arrangement with Sun, but they could not. Nevertheless, the big G decided to use it anyways, and everything was fine until Oracle got involved and decided suing was the way to go.

ccThere is a lot at the stake, and we will probably hear more from this case in the coming years.

Source: Bloomberg