The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Alphabet Inc.’s Google appeal, challenging their loss to another tech giant Oracle Corp. in a copyright case which lead to a multibillion-dollar worth verdict and will surely have wide ramifications for the entire software industry. The court recently announced its review in a brief written order on the case which commenced in 2010, when Oracle Corp. alleged that Google’s Android operating system for smartphones infringed on copyrights that were owned by Oracle’s Java platform, a technology that Oracle owns ever since their takeover of Sun Microsystems Inc. the same year.
An appeals court in 2018 rejected Google’s defense and set new legal proceedings to calculate how much it owed Oracle in damages. Oracle previously sought as much as $9 billion in damages. The litigation focuses on a key issue in the technology industry, which is how software developers use these API (application-program interfaces), which are pre-written packages of computer code that allow websites, apps or programs to talk one another. Oracle alleged that Google illegally copied more than 11,000 lines of Java API code to develop its Android operating system, which operates over 2 billion mobile devices world-wide. Google was also accused of weakening important legal protections for software. Oracle spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars writing a major software platform, the company said in a court brief. Google had then turned down Oracle’s offer to buy a license, but they copied the most common portions of that platform software onto a competing platform.
A Persistent Google Effort
Oracle has said that it is confident that the SC will hold up the long established copyright protection for originally developed software and overturn Google’s on-going efforts to avoid all responsibility for outright copying Oracle’s innovation. Google has argued that Oracle should not be allowed to maintain copyrights on the most basic software commands. An Oracle win would destroy longstanding expectations of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs, Google said in its petition seeking the Supreme Court review as they hoped that the court would reaffirm the importance of software inter-operability in American competitiveness.
The case has already gone to trial twice and in the final round, the jurors accepted the arguments presented by Google, that their copying of the existing Java code was deemed fair use, but in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned that conclusion stating that there is absolutely nothing fair about copying a copyrighted piece of work, verbatim and then use it for the same function and purpose as the original one from the competing platform. The Supreme Court admitted the case against the advice given by the Justice Department which felt that the Supreme Court need not intervene.
Support by Hi-Tech Companies and Trade Bodies
Many Tech companies including Microsoft Corp and the trade associations persuaded the High Court to entertain the case, as the lower court’s smaller views on fair use of tech code , threatened innovations in software production which is a highly collaborative process with many different players participating. Noel Francisco, U.S. Solicitor General, said in court that Oracle’s original work was eligible to get copyright protection as the lower court’s judgement on fair use was not free from doubt, although he argued this case was not the basket case for the high court to set out precedents in that particular area of the law.