Many software applications use the free Java programming language, originally developed by Oracle. But is Java fair game to any developer who uses it, or is the language ultimately the intellectual property of its creator? That’s what the Federal Circuit is left to discern as a 3-year-old Oracle suit against Google makes its way to the appeals court.
On Dec. 4, the court heard arguments in a case that claims Google’s use of 37 Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android operating system infringes upon Oracle’s patent rights and copyright. In its appeal to the Federal Circuit, Oracle wrote that Google “took the most important, the most appealing” sections of Java without asking the original creator for permission.
“Google took the code for its own uses, and it did it to leverage Oracle's fan base,” Oracle lawyer Josh Rosenkranz said, according to cnet.com. “Google was very careful to only use what was structural. No one was able to use the Java language as a smartphone platform.”
Google, meanwhile, argues that it should have the right to use the APIs, because the programming language is free to the public, and the APIs are essential to being able to use the programming language.
However, in the hearing, Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley seemed to disagree with that interpretation. She said that the fact Java is free to use does not preclude the developers from claiming copyright protection. She also questioned whether Google would then be free to use APIs developed by Apple and Microsoft were the court to rule in Google’s favor.
In the initial case, a California district court agreed with Google in its May 2012 ruling. The jury found that Google did use Java code without permission, but Judge William Alsup ruled that the APIs were non-copyrightable, leading to the dismissal of the claim. In its finding, the district court ruled that if Oracle was successful in its suit, the result “would destabilize the software industry.”
According to Java's website, 89 percent of desktops in the U.S. run Java, while 9 million developers use Java regularly worldwide. In addition, 3 billion mobile phones run Java.
This isn’t the only time Google has been in top legal news recently. Read on for more on the tech giant: