A U.S Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington are hearing arguments from Oracle that Google used 37 Java Application Programming Interfaces (API) in the development of Google’ Android Operating System, and is seeking $1 billion for those copyright infringements. So far, according to Reuters and Bloomberg, after 90 minutes of arguments from both sides, the three Judge panel may be siding with Oracle.
The appeal centers on whether or not copyright protection can or should pertain to an API – shortcut tools used in software programs to do basic functions, such as connecting to the internet. These tools help developers to write programs for a multitude of cross-platforms. The appeals Circuit Judge, Kathleen O’Malley, claims that just because Java was available to programmers and freely used does not negate its ability to obtain copyright protection – an almost complete turnaround from the decision made last year.
Oracle claims that Google used their interfaces without permission or payment because they were behind schedule in developing Android and therefore eliminated Oracle’s ability to cash in on the popularity in smartphone sales. Rather than write their own code for the basic things, they copied Java interfaces and incorporated it into their Android OS. Google’s claim is that those interfaces are simply mapping directions, but that Google actually wrote millions of line of original code that is the Android OS. Google claims that the Java code represents fundamental programming that is used by the entire industry at no cost and accused Oracle of trying to “backpedal” on Sun’s (Oracle bought them out in 2010) pledges that Java was free. Van Nest, of Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco said:
“Google was very careful to only use what was structural. No one was able to use the Java language as a smartphone platform.”
Judge O’Malley questioned if Google would freely use interfaces developed by Microsoft or Apple, and Van Nest replied:
“Yes, but only the command structure. They would have to rewrite millions of lines of code. That’s what Android did — 15 million lines of Android code are all original.”
The trial in San Francisco last year attracted much attention because Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Google CEO Larry Page both testified. Oracle now wants the Appeals Court to rule on whether Java APIs can be copyrighted, and if so, then Google’s “fair use” defense is no longer valid. Van Ness said that if the court rules that APIs can be copyrighted, then a jury trial would be needed to determine the fair use issue. He believes the nine lines of code that were found to be copied are so insignificant that they do not matter.
The panel of three Judges gave no indication when they would rule on the matter, and we are not sure how this will affect our beloved Android operating system or Google’s pocketbook. Let us know in the comments or on Google+ what you think of this whole mess – we would love to hear from you.