Google Takes Java Fight to the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted on January 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google with 21 Comments

Google announced today that it has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the long-running legal battle over its use of Java in Android.

“We built Android following the computer industry’s long-accepted practice of re-using software interfaces, which provide sets of commands that make it easy to implement common functionality—in the same way that computer keyboard short-cuts like pressing ‘control’ and ‘p’ make it easy to print,” Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker explains in a blog post. “Android created a transformative new platform, while letting millions of Java programmers use their existing skills to create new applications. And the creators of Java backed the release of Android, saying that it had ‘strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community’s momentum’.”

Java’s creators, of course, were purchased along with Java and the rest of Sun Microsystems by Oracle in 2010. And that company is the one that has been suing Google for using Java source code in Android, now the most dominant personal computing platform on earth.

The case has gone back and forth. In 2012, a federal court jury found that Google had not infringed on the Oracle’s Java patents, and that the Java APIs were protected under copyright law. But on appeal, that judgment was partially reversed, with a federal appeals court finding that software code was, in fact, copyrightable.

A second trial found that Google’s use of the Java source code constituted fair use. But Oracle appealed again and reversed that ruling. This case is currently awaiting a damages determination.

“The U.S. Constitution authorized copyrights to ‘promote the progress of science and useful arts,’ not to impede creativity or promote lock-in of software platforms,” Walker continues. “Leading voices from business, technology, academia, and the nonprofit sector agree and have spoken out about the potentially devastating impacts of this case.”

In its filing with the Supreme Court, Google reiterates its belief that its fair use of Java source code does not represent a copyright infringement and that its original court victories should stand.

“Google has never disputed that some forms of computer code are entitled to copyright protection,” the filing nots. “But the Federal Circuit’s widely criticized opinions—in an area in which that court has no specialized expertise—go much further, throwing a devastating one-two punch at the software industry. If allowed to stand, the Federal Circuit’s approach will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs. Developers who have invested in learning free and open programming languages such as Java will be unable to use those skills to create programs for new platforms—a result that will undermine both competition and innovation. Because this case is an optimal vehicle for addressing the exceptionally important questions presented, the petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted.”

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