Google rejected by US court in Java copying case

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Hugo Barra, vice president Android product management at Google, displays the new Nexus 7 tablet. (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)
Hugo Barra, vice president Android product management at Google, displays the new Nexus 7 tablet. (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

Washington - The US Supreme Court let Oracle press accusations that Google developed its Android smartphone operating system by improperly copying the Java programming language.

Acting in a copyright clash that has divided Silicon Valley, the justices rejected Google’s appeal of a lower court decision favouring Oracle.

Oracle, the largest database-software maker, has sought more than $1bn in damages. The lawsuit claims Google used Oracle’s Java code without paying because it was in a rush to create Android, now the world’s most popular smartphone platform. The case returns to a lower court.

The case has split the industry between companies that write interface code and those that rely on it to develop software programs.

A federal appeals court in Washington said the shortcuts created by Java to perform basic functions like connecting to the internet are eligible for copyright protection.

The Federal Circuit, as the appeals court is known, reinstated a jury’s 2012 finding that Google infringed the copyrights and sent the case back to the district court level to let Google argue it had fair use of the technology.

At the Supreme Court, Google contended the Federal Circuit’s reasoning would block innovation by preventing software developers from building on earlier innovations.

Building Blocks

“If the Federal Circuit’s holding had been the law at the inception of the Internet age, early computer companies could have blocked vast amounts of technological development by claiming 95-year copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming,” the company argued.

Google’s chances at Supreme Court review took a hit in May when the Obama administration urged against a hearing, saying the lower court ruling was correct.

Google’s allies at the Supreme Court included Yahoo!, Red Hat and Hewlett-Packard.

Oracle asked the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, saying its code is “original and highly creative.”

“Google was free to write its own code to perform the same functions as Oracle’s,” the company argued. “Instead, it plagiarised.”

Oracle had support from Microsoft, NetApp and EMC at the appeals court level.

The dispute centers on application programming interfaces, or APIs, code that lets programmers take advantage of functions already built into an operating system.

By using Oracle’s APIs, developers don’t have to create a new formula for those features, saving time and money.

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