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Google petitions Supreme Court to reconsider Android Java ruling

Google’s legal chief claims Oracle’s copyright ruling on Java software interfaces will damage software development

Google has asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review its copyright dispute with Oracle over the use of software interfaces in Java.

The company’s senior vice-president of global affairs and chief legal officer, Kent Walker, presented Google’s arguments for a review in a blog post, claiming the outcome would have a far-reaching impact on innovation across the computer industry.

In the post, Walker wrote: “Standardised software interfaces have driven innovation in software development. They let computer programs interact with each other and let developers easily build technologies for different platforms. Unless the Supreme Court steps in here, the industry will be hamstrung by court decisions finding that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under copyright law.”

Walker said Android has helped developers overcome the challenges of smaller processors, limited memory and short battery life, while providing innovative features and functionality for smartphone development.

“The result was a win for everyone,” he said. “Developers could build new apps, manufacturers could build great new devices, and the resulting competition gave consumers both lower prices and an extraordinary range of choice.”

Walker said Android followed the computer industry’s long-accepted practice of re-using software interfaces. “Android created a transformative new platform, while letting millions of Java programmers use their existing skills to create new applications,” he said.

Oracle has tried to profit from the success of Android, said Walker. “Oracle sued us for using these software interfaces, trying to profit by changing the rules of software development after the fact. Oracle’s lawsuit claims the right to control software interfaces – the building blocks of software development – and, as a result, the ability to lock in a community of developers who have invested in learning the free and open Java language.”

Read more about the Java API case

Walker said the court initially ruled that the software interfaces were not copyrightable, but that decision was overruled. “A unanimous jury then held that our use of the interfaces was a legal fair use, but that decision was likewise overruled,” he said.

“Unless the Supreme Court corrects these twin reversals, this case will end developers’ traditional ability to freely use existing software interfaces to build new generations of computer programs for consumers.” 

Walker added: “The US constitution authorised copyrights to “promote the progress of science and useful arts’, not to impede creativity or promote lock-in of software platforms.”

In response to Walker’s post, Oracle executive vice-president and general counsel, Dorian Daley, wrote: “Google's petition for certiorari presents a rehash of arguments that have already been thoughtfully and thoroughly discredited.

“The fabricated concern about innovation hides Google’s true concern: that it be allowed the unfettered ability to copy the original and valuable work of others as a matter of its own convenience and for substantial financial gain. This is not, and has never been, a valid justification for copying.

“Further, the purported ‘chill on innovation’ is a well-known myth. The sky is not falling on the software industry or technology industry in general.

“Oracle will continue its efforts to protect and grow its own innovations, as well as those of other innovators, by ensuring that the well-established principles of copyright law are not subverted by anyone trying to cut corners.

“In major victories for software innovation, the Court of Appeals has twice sided with Oracle against Google. The Court of Appeals was correct each time. The Supreme Court should once again deny Google’s request to take the case.”

Read more on Integration software and middleware

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