Alphabet’s Google is taking its battle with Oracle over the use of Java in its Android operating system to the Supreme Court.
In a blog post in January Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs and chief legal officer at Google, warned the outcome of the dispute will have a huge impact on innovation in the computer industry for years to come.
Arguing that standardized software interferences are the drivers of innovation in software development, Kent said they enable computer programs to interact with others and lets developers build technologies for disparate platforms. Without intervention on the part of the Supreme Court to reverse what Google thinks is unfair rulings, the software industry will be “hamstrung” by lower courts decisions that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under the current copyright laws.
The fight, which has been years in the making, centers on whether or not Google infringed on Oracle’s technology by using its software interfaces, which provide a set of commands that make it easier to implement functionality in its Android OS. Before Oracle acquired Java through its purchase of Sun Microsystems in 2010, the creators of Java supported the release of Android, saying at the time it “strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community’s momentum.” That all changed when Oracle got its hands on Java and thus the long-running legal battle since then.
Both companies have had wins and losses. A court initially ruled that software interfaces were not copyrightable but the decision was overruled. A jury also found Google’s use of the interfaces was fair but that too was overruled. That has led Google to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case.
Google’s release of the open-source Android operating system in 2008 has long been credited with changing the game for mobile phones and developers. The open-source nature of its mobile OS gave developers a way to innovate in the mobile space, creating new functionalities for smartphones. The result according to Kent was a win for everyone. Developers were able to build new apps, handset manufacturers could develop new devices and consumers benefited from more choice in mobile apps. In the view of Google, that could change without intervention from the Supreme Court.
“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,” wrote Walker. “Just like we all learn to use computer keyboard shortcuts, developers have learned to use the many standard interfaces associated with different programming languages. Letting these reversals stand would effectively lock developers into the platform of a single copyright holder—akin to saying that keyboard shortcuts can work with only one type of computer.”
Despite Google’s warning that innovation can end as we know it if the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case, Oracle isn’t backing down. In its own statement in response to Google’s latest salvo Oracle Executive Vice President and General Counsel Dorian Daley said Google’s “fabricated concern about innovation” masks the true motivation: “the unfettered ability to copy the original and valuable work of others as a matter of its own convenience and for substantial financial gain.” Daley noted that since the initial decision ruling in favor of Oracle the pace of innovation in the mobile market has only increased, creating more jobs and opportunities for people. “The sky is not falling on the software industry or technology industry in general,” wrote Daley.