Oracle Wins Appeal in Google Copyright Case
(CN) - Oracle can pursue a $1 billion lawsuit accusing Google of copying its Java programming language to develop the Android operating system, the Federal Circuit ruled Friday.
The tech company sued the online search giant in 2010, claiming Google's smartphone platform copied application programming interface (or API) packages and technology patented by its predecessor, Sun Microsystems Inc.
The API packages contained several ready-to-use Java programs that programmers could use to build certain functions into their own programs.
A jury handed down a mixed verdict in May 2012, finding that Google had copied 37 of the 168 Java API packages comprising the Android platform. Jurors deadlocked on whether the copying constituted fair use and found no patent infringement.
Java SE and its packages are generally free to the public as open-source software and can be used by programmers who write their own implementing code, as Google did.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, himself a programmer who said he's "written blocks of code," overturned the verdict a month later on the basis that API packages cannot be copyrighted. Google won its appeal of all infringement claims but two, involving eight decompiled security files and a specific computer routine called "rangeCheck."
Alsup later denied Oracle's motions for summary judgment and a mistrial.
The Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., came to a different conclusion Friday, however.
"Because we conclude that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright protection, we reverse the district court's copyrightability determination with instructions to reinstate the jury's infringement finding as to the 37 Java packages," Judge Kathleen O'Malley wrote for the three-judge panel.
She said Google "designed many of its own API packages from scratch," and could have done so with the 37 it allegedly copied from Oracle.
Google argued that copying those packages was "'the only and essential means' of achieving a degree of interoperability with existing programs" written in Java.
O'Malley called that claim "confusing," given the "record evidence that Google designed Android so that it would not be compatible with the Java platform." (Original emphasis.)
"Instead, Google wanted to capitalize on the fact that software developers were already trained and experienced in using the Java API packages at issue," O'Malley wrote.
Google also failed to convince the appellate panel that it was justified in copying the API packages because they had effectively become the industry standard.
"Google cites no authority for its suggestion that copyrighted works lose protection when they become popular, and we have found none," O'Malley wrote.
The Federal Circuit remanded the fair-use question for a new trial, suggesting that at least some of the 37 packages copied by Google might be essential components of any Java-based program.
Finally, the court rejected Google's cross-appeal regarding the decompiled Java files and the rangeCheck program.