Oracle is dragging Google into court and we are all finally cheering. Google has been accused by Oracle of stealing parts of the famous Java to build the Android platform. Oracle had paid $7.4 billion to buy Sun Microsystems, makers of Java, for the sake of acquiring Java, according to Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle.
By using Java software tools, Google appears to have violated copyrights and patents held by Oracle, in order to construct the Android operating system. Google, as always, feigns innocence, but Oracle is seeking $1 billion in damages. The results could alter Google’s methods of use and distribution of the world’s leading mobile operating system.
The dispute is quite complicated, requiring months of pretrial hearings to specify the exact problem. Judge Alsup instructed the lawyers for Oracle to avoid utilizing the CEO’s testimony to inflate the value of the case and to avoid sealing documents unless absolutely necessary, regardless of financial information. He justification was that it is a public trial. The judge warned everyone involved that the case could take as long as 10 weeks.
The reason this case is important is not only for the players involved, but especially for the decision regarding the protection of Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) by copyright laws. This could alter an entire industry and define Intellectual Property (IP) law at the same time. This case is also groundbreaking, since past lawsuits pertaining to the Android OS were directed at the makers of the phones. This time Oracle is attacking Google itself.
Google swears they only used the freely available parts of Java to build Android. While Java is freely available, the development tools for Java require the user to secure a license.
There have been many such lawsuits involving the manufacturers of Android phones, targeting patent complaints. The difference here is the direct assault on Google itself, by Oracle. Judge Alsup, beginning with the lawsuit as far back as August 2010, whittled down the case, which at one time requests $6 billion in damages. With the withdrawal of 5 out of 7 of the initial claims, there are only 37 APIs left under dispute.
In essence, APIs are libraries of pre-wrriten routines. Oracle claims there was deliberate decisions made in the arrangement of the elements I the APIs, though this bears not influence on the effectiveness nor functionality of the code. Google likens APIs to letters or words in a language, though more accurately they could at the smallest be called sentences or phrases. Like it or not, phrases and sentences are protected IP in both marketing and literary works. Oracle claims the API codes would require 11,000 pages to print them out. This is not an insignificant body of work.
Case law does not exist yet that directly addresses the legitimacy of IP protection of APIs. Imagine the chaos in the software industry if Oracle prevails, however. It appears, though, what Oracle is actually pissed about is being left out in the cold. They have complained that Google programmed the Android OS in such as way as to be incompatible with other Java programs and that this undermines Java’s aspirations to become the universal programming language.