Oracle vs Google: Judge to rule on API copyright, not jury

By Chris Middleton
23 Apr 2012 View Comments
Google logo on wall

The judge in the Oracle vs. Google IP trial has said that he will rule on the "copyrightability" of the 37 APIs involved in the litigation, and not leave that decision to the jury.

Oracle has claimed in a $1bn (£621m) action that Google's use of Java in its Android operating system should have been carried out under licence. Google claims that the Java programming language is free and that there is no case to answer.

Further reading

Android does not have a Sun/Oracle Java licence.

The decision by the judge, the Hon. William Alsup, to rule on the copyright status of the APIs is significant, as it minimises the chances of the non-expert jury being confused by key technical details.

Oracle has shown the jury slides of identical lines of code to demonstrate that Google "literally copied" proprietary code, in Oracle's description, and suggested that this means that Google's claim of a "clean room" implementation of the Java libraries (an implementation minus proprietary elements) is false.

On 21 April, Google accepted that it had access to English language prose descriptions of the APIs at the centre of the case, but argued that this did not in itself make Android's use of Java a derivative work.

Fundamentally, the case hinges on a decsion about whether this specific code required a licence, and whether or not Google knew that this was the case.

Before its acquisition by Oracle, Sun Microsystems – which developed Java – had adopted a "push me, pull you" approach to its technology, as it needed to ensure that Java was both widely adopted by coders and developers, but also ultimately controlled by Sun.

The grey areas left behind by that strategy are now being decided in court. Indeed, one of the disputed elements of the case are lines of code that Google says it contributed to Java, not copied from it.


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