Google and Oracle’s decade-long lawsuit over Android code will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Google’s use of Oracle code in its Android mobile operating system has been the focus of a decade-long court battle that Oracle claims is worth as much as $9 billion.
10 years of litigation industry attention.
Java was originally written by Sun Microsystems. Oracle bought the company in early 2010 for $7.4 billion, and in August of that year filed a lawsuit seeking $9 billion in damages.
When Google first developed the Android mobile operating system, it decided to be compatible with the Java implementation. To do this, the company refactored some of the Java APIs, including 37 involved in legal disputes. Google reached a temporary agreement with Sun that year, but the agreement broke down because of the latter’s control of the Android platform.
Whether Oracle, which took over Java from Sun, is eligible for a share of Android and whether Google’s language compatibility involves infringement are two of the main points of contention.
During the decade-long legal battle, the two companies’ claims also changed.
When Google responded in 2010, it was still involved in seven patents and one copyright claim. By 2012, however, the point of contentity had shrunk to 37 Java APIs consisting of only about 11,500 lines of code. By comparison, the total code for the major Android versions is between 12 and 14 billion lines.
The final ruling will have far-reaching implications for the software industry.
APIs are widespread in the software industry, making competing software products interoperable, helping customers reduce conversion costs, and lower barriers to entry for software start-ups: it’s easier to sell if a new product is compatible with software products that customers already know and use.
Analysis suggests that if Oracle wins, it will cause huge confusion for the entire software industry. Treating the Java API as a copyrighted product gives Oracle enormous control and monopoly in developing Java-compatible programs, hindering the development capabilities of new entry.
Oracle’s complaint against Google has been backed by the U.S. government. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Malcolm Stewart said Wednesday that copyright protection is needed to protect “creational” software.
During Wednesday’s debate, several justices objected to Google’s views. Chief Justice John Roberts said that if Oracle had the only access, “Google would get it by getting a license”.
But the top U.S. court justice also wants to know how Oracle’s victory would affect the tech world. Many new applications developed by developers today require the use of other people’s APIs to make their products work properly.
The final decision will not be made any time soon. The justices were due to hear the case in March, but the hearing was postponed because of the outbreak. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by June 2021.