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Google’s Android in the clear as judge says Oracle Java APIs elements not copyrightable

June 1, 2012

Google’s Android mobile operating system is being targeted by various competing companies in different patent-based lawsuits, with Oracle being one of them. But it looks like Google managed to score one more important victory in this particular legal battle, in a lawsuit we have been following for quite some time.

Judge William Alsup ruled yesterday that Oracle Java APIs elements are not copyrightable, which means Android is in the clear and Oracle is not likely to see the big payout it was hoping for. This is the second important victory for Google in a matter of days, as only last week the jury of the Oracle vs Google case decided that Google did not infringe any Oracle patents with Android. The copyright claim was the only issue still needed to be cleared, an undertaking that was left to the presiding judge.

Alsup found that only 3% of the code used in the 37 APIs under scrutiny came from Sun or Oracle, which is not nearly enough for the company to claim copyright infringement. The judge explained his ruling thoroughly (full transcript available at the Source link below) and detailed his decision not to set an important precedent – siding with Oracle under the circumstances – that could be unfavorable to other parties that could be involved in similar proceedings in the future:

In closing, it is important to step back and take in the breadth of Oracle’s claim. Of the 166 Java packages, 129 were not violated in any way. Of the 37 accused, 97 percent of the Android lines were new from Google and the remaining three percent were freely replicable under the merger and names doctrines. Oracle must resort, therefore, to claiming that it owns, by copyright, the exclusive right to any and all possible implementations of the taxonomy-like command structure for the 166 packages and/or any subpart thereof – even though it copyrighted only one implementation. To accept Oracle’s claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands. No holding has ever endorsed such a sweeping proposition.

Simply put, the judge made it clear that no entity can use Java APIs free of charge, or that the “structure, sequence and organization [SSO] of all computer programs may be stolen.” But that the “particular [Java] elements” Google did use in Android, are not copyrightable as Oracle claims.

Thus far, Google would only have to pay up to $300,000 in statutory damages to Oracle “for use of nine lines of rangeCheck code and eight decompiled Java test files.” However, the battle between the two giants is far from over, even if the case against Google has been dismissed, as Oracle plans to fight Judge Alsup’s ruling. We’ll probably see the company appeal both last week’s jury decision and this week’s ruling in the near future, although from the looks of it, Oracle has little hope of overturning the verdicts.