Google’s use of java API without copyright to develop Android has been an issue of contention between Google and Oracle and has turned into a multi billion law suit if Oracle was to win. The case was first filed by Oracle in 2010 and a verdict initially in 2012 did side with Oracle only to later rule against it.
The entire software industry is divided on this topic as some support Google’ view that it acted under a doctrine allowing “fair use” of small amounts of copyright material others support that Oracle lost out as Google’s Android simple rules the mobile market and Java is no where in picture.
A six-year dispute between Oracle Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google over software copyrights heads back to court Monday for a trial that could lead to billions of dollars in damages and alter the ground rules for modern software.
It will be the second trial for Oracle’s complaint that Google used parts of its Java software without permission. In 2012, a jury found Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights, but the judge later ruled the software couldn’t be copyrighted. Since then, the case has ping-ponged through appeals courts, including a brief stop at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Each company says it is defending software innovation. Oracle says allowing Google to use Java free would discourage software companies from innovating. Google says requiring it to pay a big fine and licensing fees would discourage programmers from using parts of software to make apps and computer programs talk to one another—as it did with Java—ultimately rendering software less useful.
In prior rounds, tech companies were split on the case. On the issue of whether Java was copyrightable, for instance, Hewlett-Packard Co., Red Hat Inc. and Yahoo Inc. backed Google, while Microsoft Corp. and others sided with Oracle.
At issue is Google’s use of 37 so-called application program interfaces, or APIs, from Java in its Android mobile operating system. APIs are snippets of code that enable an app, website or program to work with other bits of software.
When building Android, Google used Java APIs because programmers were familiar with the programming language, and many programs used it. Oracle says Google should have licensed the APIs from Java’s creator, Sun Microsystems Inc., which Oracle later acquired. Google says it acted under a doctrine allowing “fair use” of small amounts of copyright material.
Mark Lemley, a Stanford University law professor who has tracked the case, said a victory for Oracle could deter programmers from using APIs to make apps and websites more useful.
“It could stifle programming innovation, especially among small, independent programmers” who can’t afford to pay licensing fees, said Mr. Lemley, who worked as an outside attorney for Google several years ago in a separate case.
An expert witness for Oracle said in court documents that the company could seek more than $9 billion in damages, a figure partly based on Google’s estimated profits from Android. The court last Tuesday ruled that Oracle couldn’t use that figure, but Oracle is still likely to seek billions of dollars in damages, according to people familiar with the matter. Google said in court documents that the Oracle witness’s analysis “makes no sense.”
Oracle initially sued Google in 2010 for infringing its patents and copyrights covering Java. U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled in 2012 that Oracle couldn’t copyright its Java APIs, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that ruling in 2014.
Now the case is back before Judge Alsup to decide whether Google’s use of the APIs is protected under the fair-use rules.
The trial begins Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and is expected to last several weeks. It could feature testimony from Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Regardless of the trial’s outcome, both companies have said another appeal is likely.