Oracle Can't Copyright 37 Java APIs, Judge Rules

The 37 Java APIs at the center of the Oracle v. Google patent infringement lawsuit are not subject to copyright. So ruled Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court of Northern California.

Oracle had alleged that Google infringed on Java-related patents and copyrights when it developed its Android operating system. The jury in the case ruled unanimously on May 23 that Google had not infringed on those patents when it developed its Android operating system. But it delivered a partial verdict on May 7, holding that Google had infringed on Oracle's copyrights in its use of Java APIs, but deadlocked on whether that infringement could be considered "fair use." The judge promised to rule on that issue quickly.

Alsup held that the Java APIs in Android are not eligible for protection under U.S. copyright law, but in his order filed Thursday he made it clear that this was a narrow ruling applying only the 37 APIs in this case.

"This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license," Alsup wrote. "It does not hold that the structure, sequence and organization of all computer programs may be stolen. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act."

Oracle said in a statement that it would appeal the decision:

"Oracle is committed to the protection of Java as both a valuable development platform and a valuable intellectual property asset. It will vigorously pursue an appeal of this decision in order to maintain that protection and to continue to support the broader Java community of over 9 million developers and countless law abiding enterprises. Google's implementation of the accused APIs is not a free pass, since a license has always been required for an implementation of the Java Specification. And the court's reliance on 'interoperability' ignores the undisputed fact that Google deliberately eliminated interoperability between Android and all other Java platforms. Google's implementation intentionally fragmented Java and broke the 'write once, run anywhere' promise. This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States and make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights against companies anywhere in the world that simply takes them as their own."

Google also issued a statement following the ruling:

"The court's decision upholds the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development. It's a good day for collaboration and innovation."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].