Oracle’s Java API Suit Against Google – Five Years Later

Five years ago, in August 2010, I asked the question Have We Reached The Software Patent Tipping Point?

Oracle sued Google over a series of Java-related patents they got when they acquired Sun.

My favorite line from the whole thing was James Gosling’s (who was one of the authors of one of the original patents and a key creator of Java) when he wrote The shit finally hits the fan.

“The shit finally hits the fan…. Thursday August 12, 2010
Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer’s eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun’s genetic code. Alas…. 

I hope to avoid getting dragged into the fray: they only picked one of my patents (RE38,104) to sue over.”

Oracle also got copyrights to the Java APIs. Remember, Java was theoretically Open Source, but like so many things in our world when lawyers get involved “it’s complicated.” Stack Exchange regularly has commentary about this. See Is Java free/open source or not? and Is java an open source programming language?

It’s not as messy as the Greek debt crisis but directionally similar. And it’s far from over. I was hoping the Supreme Court would take this on and help put an important issue around copyright to bed. But the Supremes passed, deferring to the need for a lower court to rule on the appeal.

“The justices, without comment, declined to disturb a May 2014 appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor that reinvigorated the company’s case against Google. The appeals court, overruling a trial judge, said 37 packages of prewritten Java programs, known as application programming interfaces, were entitled to copyright protection.

Oracle has sought more than $1 billion in damages. A jury originally held that Google infringed the Oracle copyrights, but it deadlocked on Google’s defense that its copying amounted to fair use. That issue will have to be retried in a lower court.”

Patents and copyrights are different. And the courts know that. Unfortunately, it’s getting even more tangled up, especially around the critical concept of fair use. This continues to be a very important case, especially as interoperability between software has become a fundamental tenant of how software systems function, and I’m glad Google is fighting it.

At least we got the right to marry anyone we want from the Supremes.

  • Rupen

    Open source is a strategy. Open source is free as in beer. Somebody still owns the rights. They still control it. Somebody invested a lot of money to build or acquire it. None of these companies are charities. They all jostle for control. Everyone has a right to earn a living.

  • Ryan P

    It was just two giant companies fighting over money, essentially. Not polemic enough for the Supremes.

  • “… fundamental tenant”

    should read

    “fundamental tenet”

  • Do you think it’s better now that there is an actual Patent Court where the judges know precedent and understand patent law? Previous to that court being established in DC, it went to traditional courts where eyes would glaze over.

  • ZekeV

    I would like to see antitrust authority used more aggressively against software monopolists who enforce their copyrights and patent rights in an anti-competitive manner.