Google Files Opening Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Java Case

Posted on January 7, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Google with 9 Comments

Two months after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Google’s appeal in the Java case, the search giant filed its opening brief. And other prominent members of the tech community are arguing that an Oracle victory in this case would be “likely fatal to open-source.”

“We’re asking the Court to reaffirm the importance of the software interoperability that has allowed millions of developers to write millions of applications that work on billions of devices,” Google senior vice president Kent Walker explains. “As Microsoft said in an earlier filing in this case, ‘consumers … expect to be able to take a photo on their Apple phone, save it onto Google’s cloud servers, and edit it on their Surface tablets’.”

As Walker explains in the Google post, the Supreme Court will determine whether U.S. copyright laws extend to software interfaces and, if so, whether it is fair to use those interfaces to create new technologies.

“Open interfaces between programs are the building blocks of many of the services and products we use today, as well as of technologies we haven’t yet imagined,” Walker continues. “An Oracle win would upend the way the technology industry has always approached the important issue of software interfaces. It would for the first time grant copyright owners a monopoly power to stymie the creation of new implementations and applications. And it would make it harder and costlier for developers and startups to create more products for people to use.”

Google isn’t alone in this opinion. JavaScript inventor and Brave co-founder Brendan Eich noted on Twitter that the “collateral damage from Oracle winning would be huge, and would likely be fatal to open-source.”

The Google/Oracle Java case heads to the Supreme Court “this Spring,” Google says and the Court has until July to make its decision.

Tagged with ,

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (9)

9 responses to “Google Files Opening Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Java Case”

  1. lvthunder

    Sounds like we better hope Google makes great points in the hearings.

    • christian.hvid

      In reply to lvthunder:

      Well, arguing that an Oracle win would be "fatal to open source" is not a great point. A ruling in Oracle's favor is not going to prevent anyone from creating or using open source, open APIs, or open standards. Worst case, it will prevent developers from recreating proprietary APIs without a license. And, ironically, it might even bolster Google's own efforts to kneecap third-party YouTube clients.

      Remember, ten years ago almost everyone (including me) argued that software patents were going to kill open source. But that didn't happen - open source is healthier than ever. There are still plenty of patent trolls out there (and we might get API trolls now), but I can't think of a single open source project that had to be shut down because of them.

      That said, I still believe Oracle's lawsuit is completely frivolous and nothing but a money grab.

  2. Jogy

    And in the meantime, Google pushes forward Kotlin as a language to replace Java for Android development … just like in it's time Microsoft created C# .NET when Oracle sued them on their use of Java.

    • christian.hvid

      I believe that the defensive move here is not Kotlin, but Google's decision several years ago to dump Dalvik and switch to Oracle's OpenJDK. This move limits Google's liability to Android 4.4 and earlier, in case SCOTUS should rule in Oracle's favor. Kotlin, on the other hand, just aims to be "a better Java than Java", and since it typically compiles down to pure Java and runs on the same JVM, it doesn't shield Google from any legal issues.

      I would argue that the relationship between Kotlin and Java is like that between TypeScript and JavaScript - it's mostly syntactic sugar. A better parallel to C#/.NET might be Dart/Flutter, which is a complete reboot and does not depend on Java or other third-party stacks.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Jogy:

      Sun sued Microsoft over Java, not Oracle. That was a long time before Oracle bought Sun.

      On the other hand, Sun allegedly gave Google a free hand, verbally, and it was Oracle's lawyers who saw a big payout on the horizon when they were in take-over discussions with Sun.

      On the one hand, I'd like to see Oracle fail on this. On the other it seems to be Google's SOP to take protected technology and integrate it into its systems without a by-your-leave.

      For the good of the industry, Oracle should lose. But Google also needs a good slap in the face.

  3. stevek

    You know...I'd really love to see an article from Paul (maybe part of the Programming Windows Series) on a comparison of this with the Microsoft Java episode.

    They seem very similar but the interesting part to me is where the industry seems to be lining up.

    In the old Microsoft case, Microsoft's license of Java from Sun was that it had to run all the same code as the Sun produced JVM; and it did. They extended it so it could take advantage of native windows calls as well and Sun claimed they were subverting the Java platform. Which I've always found ironic as the point of Java for Sun was to subvert the Windows Platform with Java and make people write Java apps instead of Windows apps...and Sun complaining that Microsoft was trying to keep people writing Windows apps always seemed a bit rich to me. Even Anders Hejlsberg didn't believe Microsoft was violating the agreement with Sun as it did allow for it to be extended.

    The industry as a whole tended to side with Sun over Microsoft though. There was none of the current; this is the end of APIs if Sun wins; or that's the end of software; hyperbole you are hearing was a fairly solid block of how dare Microsoft subvert Java and do the embrace and extend (and if I recall correctly this was really the first time that phrase was tossed around).

    In Google's case; they stole code for Java; made a JVM that didn't run all Java code; extended it with their own Android APIs....all in general worse than what Microsoft had done before...

    and now the industry is siding with Google over Oracle (now the owner of Java).

    I get the...we don't like Oracle cause they are slimy...but how is what Google doing considered okay; but what Microsoft did was not okay.

    I really don't see the difference; other than Google went even further.

    I find it interesting; and I think it could make an interesting article...

    • Paul Thurrott

      Interesting. I think the fundamental issue with Sun/Microsoft was that they hated each other and that Microsoft actually made a better version of Java, which threatened the platform since Windows was so dominant at the time. With Google, Android was never going to run Java applets and programs natively; they were making a new platform. So what they did didn't undermine Java, in fact it spread its usage to a whole new generation and type of programmers.
      • stevek

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I'd say that it was Scott McNealy that hated Microsoft; but it was a hatred born out of jealousy as he wanted to be Bill Gates more than anything. I understood how people could dislike Microsoft because of Gates (and I agree with you that back then he was a horrible actor) but then think that McNealy/Sun would be any better if they swapped places...McNealy was another horrible person as well; just had smaller influence. (Which brings up an interesting comparison between Sun of yore and Microsoft/PC world of today actually...I'll mention below).

        I still say that what Google is doing now; and what Microsoft did do with Java are technically very similar. I get the personalities involved are different but from a legal standpoint I'd think the MS/Sun case provides some precedent for this Google/Oracle one. Google took Java; changed it so it wouldn't run Java code but Android code instead to extend their platform (but perhaps not at the expense of Java but that isn't because of their actions; just that Java isn't a player in the user level GUI interface programming world anymore). You could make the same argument you did for MS back in the day (and some people did back then) that MS wasn't undermining Java and was spreading its usage to a generation of Windows programmers.

        So other interesting comparison:

        I've been comparing this as Oracle=Sun and Google=Microsoft; but there is another interesting way to compare some of these companies as Sun=Microsoft.

        I mentioned that McNealy really wants Sun to be the dominate player that Microsoft was back in the day. So did several other companies back then, like SGI, Digital, Apple, etc...list goes on.

        The thing the PC world had was the machines were more affordable; and there was a reason why they could be. The market could live with smaller margins on the products in that space because it was the popular choice. You could make decent money due to the overall volume.

        Players like Sun didn't have the volume to sell Unix workstations; and they never priced them to be as inexpensive as PCs (which in today's dollars were not cheap either; just cheaper). Since they didn't have the volume; they had to raise prices to stay in business and make any money; and as evidence today by Sun having to sell out; and Digital not making workstations anymore, might be able to carve a niche but if there isn't enough people left in the niche or another market that IS cheaper can service that niche well enough ... aka PCs became powerful enough that nobody "needed" to buy an expensive Unix workstation can see your market dry up.

        Ironically, it seems MS is now in that position. They are not as popular or perhaps dominant as they once were...and what is happening in the PC order to make money PC manufactures are raising prices for "Premium" PCs in order to stay in business. Now the PC market isn't quite a niche as Unix workstations were; but if other devices like iPads, Chromebooks, etc...end up being able to eat more and more into the usage space that people still use PCs for...I think there is a comparison to be made.

        The challenge for the PC market is to not become irrelevant...and I think that's the point behind the various new ideas that keep getting thrown against the wall; like Windows 10 X. How can the PC become easier to manage; remain priced in a realm for its market where they do not outprice themselves; and stay useful (perhaps even better that competitors) in their productivity workspace. Some people will always need a truck instead of a car; unless they find a SUV works well enough for them. :)