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Oracle, U.S. Court tag team floors Google: Android infringed Java API copyright

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The copyright battles continue to be raged in Silicon Valley with Google and Oracle making the recent rounds. Oracle sued Google in 2010 due to Google using parts of Java code APIs in its Android operating systems.

A recent ruling was decided in Oracle's favor in an appeal process. A previous ruling by a San Francisco federal judge decided that Oracle couldn't claim copyright protection on parts of Java. However, just last Friday, the decision was reversed in an appeal that gives Oracle copyright protection over its intellectual property (IP).

"We conclude that a set of commands to instruct a computer to carry out desired operations may contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection," Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Malley said.

Despite the ruling, this may not be the end of the dispute. This is because it doesn't involve Google taking someone else's code directly  from their application, program, or software tool. It involves Google being copyrighted for using APIs that are shared among programmers and often used as tools to create something original rather than assets. Application programming interfaces, if copyrighted, could hamper many developers because they are designed to connect programs together.

"We find that the district court failed to distinguish between the threshold question of what is copyrightable - which presents a low bar - and the scope of conduct that constitutes infringing activity," O'Malley said.

There is still the issue of fair use that needs to be resolved before this ruling can be finalized and apply to all programmers. The Federal Circuit panel ordered further proceedings in this regard.

Over all, if the ruling stands some software developers, and especially big companies with a lot of pockets who are targets of civil infringements, may need to have lawyers present very soon and before they develop further applications.

Java was actually not originally an Oracle product. It was built by Sun Microsystems in the early 90s and acquired by Oracle along with Sun in 2010. By originally filing the copyright infringement lawsuit in 2010, Oracle claimed that the API helped form or built the entire Android ecosystem.

Whether true or not, Google argues that it only helped perform a task. Although, legally techniques are not considered IPs, three of Java's APIs that Google uses are part of the Java language and Google could have written its own packages, but choose not to. It goes beyond just using key words that are available for any programmer to use.

There are two issues at play, however, here. Google apparently did violate 37 Java APIs and maybe a compensation of sorts or, at least, an acknowledgement would have been in order. If Google went to Oracle ahead of time before creating Android, maybe this wouldn't be an issue. It is a real thin line though between what really is fair use and becomes a widespread industry tool for programming and what is under copyright protection. With more lawsuits constantly popping up related to both software and hardware, it seems anyone can be a target in the industry.

"We are extremely pleased that the Federal Circuit denied Google's attempt to drastically limit copyright protection for computer code," Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley said. "The Federal Circuit's opinion is a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs."

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