Oracle has now won a victory against Google which seems likely to reignite the Oracle vs. Google case in the courts. This latest development was announced today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and undoes the previous “final ruling” which found Google’s use of Java did not infringe on Oracle’s copyright. As part of this latest ruling, the Federal Circuit had confirmed the intention to return the case to the courts for trial to further determine an adequate level of damages. This is the latest development in a long line of decisions that have been made in the courts on this matter, and as of right now, represents the current decision.
In 2016, Google was effectively found not guilty in the matter which was thought to be the end of the proceedings in spite of a number of appeals having made by Oracle between now and then. The issue itself relates to Google’s use of Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in early versions of Android. While these are no longer used by Google, Oracle has continued to argue Google’s use of these APIs infringed on Oracle’s Java copyright. In contrast, Google has maintained the argument its use of the Java APIs was more sparingly than Oracle suggests, and to a level ‘fair usage’ applies to – a perspective ultimately agreed with by a jury in 2016. Specifically, while both parties involved seem to agree the Java APIs were used – Google has not argued against the actual usage – Google states the reasons fair-use is applicable here is the APIs were not used in their original form but had been worked on and/or altered to a point where they were no longer comparable to their initial form. It is essentially this aspect that has proven to be the crux of the issue and why the decision has now been overturned. As the Federal Circuit explains that in spite of the previous decision, any change in how the APIs were ultimately used does not remove the issue of copyright with the Federal Circuit directly stating the opposite – Google has infringed on Oracle’s copyright regardless of how the APIs might or might not have been used.
This latest ruling does point out this is not the first time this same court ruled in this manner with the same outcome occurring in 2014. This led to Google appealing the decision which after various other referrals and decisions, led to the trial decision in 2016. With this court once again ruling in the same way, the same process to trial is likely to take effect again. While it remains unclear as to whether this latest development will ultimately change the 2016 outcome, it is clear that the implications of an Oracle win could be monumental. Not just in terms of how much Google could be liable for in compensation – previously Oracle had asked for as much as $9 billion – but also on what it could mean for similar cases that rely on the copyright principle of fair-use.