Lesser Law Group

Google and Oracle take dispute to high court

One of California's largest tech companies is asking the Supreme Court to intervene in a copyright dispute. Google and Oracle have been locked for years in a battle over 37 APIs, or application programming interfaces, for the Java language. These APIs are used by software programmers to allow different pieces of code to communicate with one another. It is fairly common for programmers to copy other developers' APIs when writing new software, something that Google did with Java APIs when developing code for its Android mobile operating system.

After Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, the developer of the Java APIs, it filed a copyright complaint against Google, asserting that the APIs were copyrighted and that their usage was unauthorized infringement. On the other hand, Google argues that its use of the APIs are fair use and that snippets of code of this type cannot be subject to copyright. While a district court agreed with Google, an appellate court on the Federal Circuit sided with Oracle in a controversial opinion that has been widely debated in the tech industry.

Google is petitioning the Supreme Court and asking it to overturn the decision, arguing that API usage should be understood as fair use. While "functional" documents like recipes are generally not copyrighted, the appeals court held that unique expressions of software code could be protected. Since the time the lawsuit was filed, many companies, including Google, have shifted to use open-source software. However, the outcome of the case could affect many pieces of software currently in use on a range of platforms and applications.

Intellectual property issues are significant for the tech industry and other companies dealing with innovative ideas and creations. A business litigation attorney might work with companies to develop a copyright strategy that protects ideas while allowing for new approaches.

Source: ADT, "Google Asks Supreme Court to Overrule API Copyright Ruling", John K. Waters, 01/29/2019

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