Is use of Java APIs by Google Fair Use?
In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copying 37 Java packages, 8 specialized Java security packages, and a routine called “rangeCheck” in its Android operating system. Oracle claimed in the suit that Google is liable for infringing two of its patents in the software and that Google is also liable for copyright infringement for literally copying the code. The suit was filed in a California District Court. Oracle claimed damages to the tune of nine billion dollars in the suit.
After a jury trial, the District Court held that Google was not liable for infringing Oracle’s patents. However, on the copyright count, the District Court held Google liable for infringing Oracle’s copyrights in security packages and rangeCheck. With respect to the APIs, the Court held that sequence, structure and organisation of the software are not copyrightable. The District Court also pointed out that the copying was de-minimis.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court with respect to APIs. It held that structure, sequence and organisation of software is copyrightable and that APIs are subject of copyright protection. It also pointed out that literal copying of code by Google does not amount to de-minimis copying. It remanded the case for hearing on whether Google’s use of Java code in Android amounts to fair use. The District Court heard the parties in May, 2016, and the decision is expected any time now.
While some are arguing that a decision in favour of Oracle will have a detrimental impact on open source development, others predict that the case will influence the direction of mobile phone technology. Over the years, open source software has been the subject of several . IP attacks, and has managed to withstand them. This however could have a different ending. While the decision may not halt the open source progress, it will surely enhance the burden of IP due diligence to mitigate risks from third party patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.
Authored by Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala.