Judge to Oracle: ‘Google has Violated No Copyright’

Java LogoGoogle came out on top again in its “smartphone war” with Oracle.  Google was free to use portions of Oracle’s Java programming language for development of Android software without violating Oracle’s copyrights, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed Oracle’s copyright infringement claim, setting the stage for a mega-appeal.

The decision comes on the heels of last week’s jury verdict that found Google did not violate two of Oracle’s Java patents in the creation of the Android operating system for smartphones.

The major news for programmers in the closely watched case is that elements of the application programming interfaces (APIs) used by Google “were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.”  Fear in the programming community was that the judge might expand protection of APIs under the cloak of copyright in the wider technology universe.

Oracle sued Google in 2010 claiming Google used Java computer coding to develop its Android software, used in millions of smartphones.

The central Oracle claim was not literal copying by Google, but that the search engine giant had replicated the “structure, sequence and organization” of the overall code for the 37 Java application programming interface (API) packages.

Alsup said, “So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API.”

“Google has violated no copyright, it being undisputed that Google’s implementations are different,” Alsup said.

Appeal

Oracle quickly made clear it plans to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States and make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights against companies anywhere in the world that simply takes them as their own,” according to Deborah Hellinger, Oracle spokeswoman in a prepared statement.

“It will vigorously pursue an appeal of this decision,” she said.

This is the first analysis and ruling on the copyrights for computer APIs by any district judge and no appeals courts have taken on the issue yet, according to Alsup.

Java was developed by Sun in 1996 to enable software developers to write programs that are able to run on different types of computer hardware.  It immediately became a huge success.  Oracle acquired Sun in 2010 and with it the rights to Java.

Although Google replicated the exact names and exact functions of virtually all the 37 API packages, it took care to use different code to implement 6,000 methods and 600 classes within the APIs, according to the judge.

Nine lines of identical code that crept into both Android and Java became a focal point for Oracle, out of more than 3,100 lines.  But the circumstances were “innocuous and overblown,” Alsup said.

Bottom Line

“In sum, Google and the public were and remain free to write their own implementations to carry out exactly the same functions of all methods in question, using exactly the same method specifications and names,” he said.

Alsup also warned that he did not rule that Java API packages are free to use without license, nor that the “structure, sequence and organization of all computer programs may be stolen.”  He just said Google didn’t do it here.

Quote of the Day

In what may be an overlooked hat tip, Alsup complemented the lead lawyers, Robert A. Van Nest, for Google, and Michael A. Jacobs and David Boies, for Oracle, for the reams of briefing by both sides.  But he didn’t stop there.  He also gave a shout out to the often overlooked unnamed lawyers and associates, “those behind the scenes burning midnight oil in law libraries.”

The trial began April 16.

Case:  Oracle v. Google, C10-3561WHA

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