Judge: Oracle’s Java API Elements Cannot Be Copyrighted

Late last month, a jury voted 9-3 in favor of Google against Oracle in a lawsuit regarding whether the search giant was violating the software giant’s Java patents. Oracle obtained the Java patents when they acquired Sun Microsystems in April 2009. After the jury’s decision, the issue about the infringement of the structure, sequence, and organization of 37 Java APIs was still undecided. Judge William Alsup has ended discussions by ruling that the single sign-on of the APIs is not covered by current copyright law. Oracle’s related infringement claims were dismissed completely.

The judge asked the jury to assume that the single sign-on was copyrightable when they were sent into deliberations. Under those circumstances the jurors found that Google was infringing, but they hit a disagreement about whether Google was protected under fair use.

Alsup noted that 97% of the lines of codes used in the 37 APIs came from Google instead of Sun or Oracle. Alsup also pointed out that Oracle’s only recourse for claiming infringement was to cite the structure of the APIs.

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.

Oracle could receive statutory damages for using nine lines of rangeCheck code and 8 decompiled Java test files. This could amount to a payout of $300,000. Oracle could appeal, but Judge Alsup’s ruling would make it difficult for the case to be overturned.

Here is a statement from Oracle that was sent to The Verge:

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.

This article was written by Amit Chowdhry. You can follow me at @amitchowdhry or on Google+ at
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