US Supreme Court divided over Google bid to end Oracle suit

Supreme Court US

The US Supreme Court appears divided on whether to shield Google from a long-running litigation by Oracle accusing it of infringing Oracle Corp’s copyrights to construct the Android working system which runs the majority of the world’s smartphones.

The shorthanded court, down one prosecution after last month’s death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, heard oral arguments in Google’s appeal of a lower court ruling reviving the lawsuit where Oracle has sought at least $8 billion in damages.

Some of the eight justices expressed concern that Google just copied Oracle’s software code instead of innovating and producing its own for cellular devices. Others highlighted that siding using Oracle could give software developers too much power with potentially harmful impacts on the technology market.

A jury cleared Google from 2016, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned that decision in 2018, discovering that Google’s addition of Oracle’s applications code in Android was not permissible under U.S. copyright legislation.

Oracle accused Google of copying tens of thousands of lines of computer code out of its popular Java programming language without a permit in order to make Android, a competing platform that has harmed Oracle’s business.

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Google lawyer Thomas Goldstein told the justices that the disputed Java code should not receive copyright protection since it was the “the only way” to make new apps using the programming language.

“The language only permits us to use those,” Goldstein said.

Chief Justice John Roberts proposed Google still should have paid Oracle to get a license to Java.

“Cracking the safe may be the only way to get the money that you want, but that doesn’t mean you can do it,” Justice Roberts said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch asked Goldstein on whether Google had just piggybacked on Oracle’s innovation.

Oracle and Google, two California-based technology giants with combined yearly revenues of about $200 billion, have been feuding because Oracle sued for copyright infringement in 2010 in federal court in San Francisco.

Google has said the shortcut commands it copied into Android don’t warrant copyright protection because they help programmers write programs to work across platforms, a secret to software innovation.

Some justices expressed concern that siding with Oracle could give applications developers too much electricity by letting them copyright mere procedures of organizing a method as opposed to something creative or innovative.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested Oracle was hoping to “upend” the software industry’s understanding of that software components can be copyrighted and which cannot.

“Please explain to me why we should now upend what the industry has viewed as the copyrightable elements,” Sotomayor told Rosenkranz.

Even if the shortcut commands can be retrieved, Google has said, its usage of them was permissible under the “fair use” defence to copyright infringement, which can protect copying that transforms an original copyrighted work. Google has argued that its copying was “undoubtedly transformative” since it resulted in “an entirely new smartphone platform.”

The Federal Circuit in 2018 refused Google’s defence, stating “a mere change in format (e.g. from desktop and laptop computers to smartphones and tablets) is insufficient as a matter of law to qualify as a transformative use.”

Oracle will recalculate its damages petition if it wins at the Supreme Court and the case has been sent back to a lower court for further litigation, seeking more than the amount it previously sought, Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters.

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Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked if a ruling in favour of Oracle would have the dire effects that Google has predicted. Kavanaugh noted that it has been years since a lower court concluded Oracle’s commands deserved copyright protection.

“I’m not aware that the sky has fallen in,” Kavanaugh said.

Goldstein said that judgment’s fallout was restricted because a jury later sided with Google on its “fair use” defence.

President Donald Trump’s administration backed Oracle in the case. The arguments were conducted by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Andrew Chung. Editing by Will Dunham.

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