Google v. Oracle (Fed. Cir. 2017) (pending software API copyright case)
In its return-trip to the Federal Circuit, the Oracle’s JAVA-Copyright case against Google appears have some chance of once again making interesting precedent. I previously described the case as follows:
When Google wrote its program-interface (API) for Android, the company made a strategic decision to mimic the method-calls of Java. Java was already extremely popular and Google determined that free-riding on Java popularity would facilitate its catch-up game in the third-party app marketplace. As an example, Google used the Java method header “java.lang.Math.max(a,b)”. When called, the “max” function returns the greater of the two inputs. In Android’s API, Google copied a set of 37 different Java “packages” that each contain many classes and method calls (such as “max()”). Overall, Google copied the header structure for more than six-thousand methods. Although Java is offered for both open source and commercial licenses, Google refused to comply with either regime.
Java’s originator Sun Microsystems was known for broadly sharing its creations without enforcing its IP rights. That aura changed when Sun was purchased by Oracle.
Back in 2012, the N.D. Cal. district court ruled that the portions of Java structure that Google copied were not themselves entitled to copyright protection. On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit reversed and ordered a new trial. In particular, the Federal Circuit panel led by Judge O’Malley held that the Java API taxonomy copyrightable as a whole and rejected the applicability of idea/expression merger doctrine. “Merger cannot bar copyright protection for any lines of declaring source code unless Sun/Oracle had only one way, or a limited number of ways, to write them.”
On remand, the jury sided with Google – finding that the accused use was a “fair use” and therefore not infringement. On appeal, Oracle asks the court to overturn that verdict – both based upon the evidence presented and the additional evidence excluded.
Oracle has filed its opening brief that is supported by eleven additional amicus briefs. [Oracle Brief: 02-10-17_oracle-opening-brief-second-appeal]. Google’s will be due next month as well as amicus supporting the broader conception of fair use.