Google wins in decade-long legal fight with Oracle

6 Apr 2021

Image: Asif Islam/Shutterstock

The US Supreme Court ruled that Google’s use of Oracle’s Java APIs in developing Android was fair, putting an end to the long-running saga.

After a legal spat that lasted more than 10 years, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Google in its copyright battle with Oracle.

The case was first taken by Oracle in 2010, alleging that Google copied its Java APIs in the development of the Android mobile operating system. The case challenged what exactly is fair use for APIs.

In 2018, a judge ruled that Google had violated copyright laws in its use of these APIs but on Monday (5 April), the US Supreme Court found otherwise.

The ruling, which was decided by six votes to two, stated that Google’s use of Java had been “transformative” in creating a new product.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that Google used “only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program”.

Breyer added that ruling in favour of Oracle would have granted the company too much control over code and to “allow enforcement of Oracle’s copyright here would risk harm to the public”.

In a tweet, Google senior vice-president of global affairs Kent Walker welcomed the ruling, calling it a “big win” for computing, innovation and interoperability.

Oracle stood firm in its position that Google stole its intellectual property and that the ruling would reinforce the tech giant’s market dominance.

“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater – the barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower,” Dorian Daley, executive vice-president and general counsel at Oracle, said.

“They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behaviour is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”

The ruling acknowledged that applying copyright to code still presents unique challenges. Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the dissenting judges in the vote, said the ruling created a new definition that “eviscerates copyright”.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin