Google and Oracle have been involved in a legal dispute over the copyrights to a coding language for a while now. to a coding language for a while now. After lengthy depositions, court appearances, and rulings, the case is set to be resolved by none other than the Supreme Court in the coming months, and it could form a watershed moment in the history of software development.
A Dispute Over Google’s Java Use
The foundation of the case is quite familiar to tech enthusiasts. The Android operating system, which has now become ubiquitous, was developed by Google with the help of Java- a language which, at the time, was owned by Sun Microsystems.
Although Google built its version of the underlying Android code (this avoiding a Java licensing requirement), there were some critical lines of code that it couldn’t avoid reproducing. In 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems and almost immediately sued the Internet giant for copyright infringement.
In its suit, Oracle accused Google of violating Java-related patents and copyrights. However, Google denied this, explaining, among other things, that the reproduced lines constituted only a small part of Android.
As is expected, when two behemoths get locked in a battle of such proportions, this dispute turned into a legal nightmare over the coming years. Google won a court decision in 2012, essentially throwing out the patent infringement claims. Oracle appealed the decision and was granted a net trial by a Federal Circuit that specializes in patent law. After the second trial ended with another Google win, Oracle appealed, and successfully for the court to overturn its own decision.
Although each company has staked its claims regarding why it deserves to emerge from this as the victor, it would appear that Google is beginning to get backing from some of the biggest names in the tech space as well. Several outside groups have filed in favor of Google, with names including Microsoft, IBM, the Internet Association, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. All have expressed their concern that a loss for Google could mean significant financial losses for the company.
The Big-Picture Problem Isn’t Just Financial
However, the ramifications of a loss could go beyond just the cash. If Google loses, the companies will be able to put basic software interfaces under copyright and make it more challenging for third-party developers to work with the Android platform. The ability of developers to access software platforms for their work is the chief reason why most of Google’s supporters in the tech space, including and especially Microsoft and IBM- are lining up behind it.
"If the high court sides with Oracle in its multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Google’s Android platform, it could stifle competition and entrench dominant technology firms—possibly including Google itself." https://t.co/vsUnkfs9hT
— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) January 7, 2020
All eyes will be on the Supreme Court and how it rules later this year. Google and its supporters aren’t particularly concerned about the financial ramifications since the colony is objectively worth almost $1 trillion. However, the implication of the ruling on companies’ ability to copyright code is the more contentious issue here, since it will determine the accessibility of the Android platform going forward.
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