​Google pushes to take Oracle Java copyright case to Supreme Court

13 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Appeal in Oracle Java Case Draws Supreme Court Inquiry.

The US Supreme Court asked the Obama administration for advice on Google Inc.’s appeal in its copyright clash with Oracle Corp. over the Android smartphone operating system.

Months after the Supreme Court chiseled away at patent protections for software, Google Inc. and other companies now want the justice to set limits on how software makers can use copyrights to assert exclusive rights over programs. Oracle acquired Java when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010 and sued Google the same year, alleging that Google’s widely used Android operating system for smartphones infringed copyrights on the Java platform. The case presents the court with a chance to consider the extent to which software innovations can be copied without permission from the original developer.

A San Francisco federal judge largely sided with Google in 2012, saying that the code in question could not be copyrighted. “Because we conclude that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright protection, we reverse the district court’s copyrightability determination with instructions to reinstate the jury’s infringement finding as to the 37 Java packages,” the US Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit had ruled. A trial judge barred Oracle from pressing certain copyright claims against Google, then an appeals court last year reversed that ruling and sided with Oracle. Google said in court papers that had last year’s ruling for Oracle been the law of the land at the dawn of the Internet age, “early computer companies could have blocked vast amounts of technological development by claiming 95-year copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming.” Oracle, meanwhile, says Google’s bid to limit copyrights would vitiate legal protections that are central to growth in the software industry. “Google has not come up with any explanation for why Oracle’s code loses copyright protection but all other code still retains protection,” said Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe who represents Oracle. Several friend-of-the-court briefs submitted to the high court backed the search giant, including a submission from computer scientists like Vinton “Vint” Cerf—the father of the Internet—and Python creator Guido van Rossum. The dispute centers on application programming interfaces, or APIs, code that lets programmers take advantage of functions already built into an operating system.

That likely means the justices want to hear from the federal government before it considers taking a case that could affect the scope of federal copyright protection for software. Oracle alleges that Google unlawfully copied from 37 packages of pre-written Java programs that serve as shortcuts for building common computer functions into other software programs. They say that if copyright is so broad as to cover the basic interfaces of software products, then it will be more difficult to make programs and products compatible with one another.

That, in turn, would upset the settled business practices that have enabled the American computer industry to flourish, and choke off many of the system’s benefits to consumers. [PDF] The scientists described APIs as “specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other. Oracle says it spent years and millions of dollars developing the shortcuts and claims that Google should have paid for a license or written all of its own code.

Google, which says it replicated only small bits of code, argues that Oracle shouldn’t be able to claim copyright on basic computer commands in software. Oracle’s supporters say there are other legal doctrines, like the concept of fair use, that allow follow-on innovators to copy in some circumstances.

Closely held Vederi LLC claims Street View incorporated its inventions for creating images that, when combined, can be used to view an area from different angles. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower courts to determine whether Google had a “fair use” right to infringe. “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. CLS Bank, the court ruled software makers couldn’t take well-known concepts or methods, such as hedging risk in financial transactions, place them into a computer program and claim a patent.

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