Oracle and Google have been on each other’s necks for almost eight years now. A legal battle ensued in 2010 which has seen both Oracle and Google exchange victory and loss as the matter has bounced up and down through appeals and two whole jury trials, the latest being a victory for Oracle before the US Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit.
The matter goes for its third trial before the California District Court, for the determination of damages due to Oracle following the Federal Circuit’s finding that Google’s use of Oracle’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) did not amount to fair use under the US Copyright Act.
Oracle first sued Google in 2010 after it purchased Sun Microsystems which initially owned the Java APIs. Oracle’s argument was that Google’s Android OS based on customised Java APIs amounted to copyright infringement.
The case went to full trial in 2012 with Oracle losing following the determination of the California Northern District Court (Judge William Alsup) that APIs are not subject to copyright. The ruling, an important news item to entrepreneurs and software developers, favoured innovation and interoperability allowing software to use APIs without paying a licence fee.
Oracle being displeased with Judge Alsup’s decision appealed to the Federal Court. In 2014, the Federal Court found in favour of Oracle holding that APIs are copyrightable but without answering the question of fair use.
Google unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Federal Circuit’s decision. The Supreme Court’s dismissal of Google’s Petition in June 2015 allowed for the matter to go back to the trial court for determination of the fair use defence.
The jury in the second trial court unanimously agreed in May 2016 that Google’s use of the Java APIs without licence amounted to fair use. Oracle then appealed to the Federal Circuit for the second time.
It is this second appeal that the Federal Court pronounced itself on 27 March 2018 holding in favour of Oracle. That Google’s use of Oracle’s Java APIs without licence did not amount to fair use but a copyright infringement and has thus sent it to the trial court – California District Court – for the determination of damages.
In the meantime, Google has the option of petitioning the Supreme Court for a second time for the review of the Federal Court’s determination. Should Google exercise this option, then the District Court will have to await the Supreme Court’s determination.
However, Google’s failure to petition the Supreme Court will be then it would have been established that APIs enjoy copyright protection and that Google infringed upon Oracle’s copyright when it customised the Java APIs without a licence.
It will be interesting to see how this matter unfolds and how it will affect the now awakening Kenyan Market.
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