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Google Asks SCOTUS to Rescue Android From Oracle, Fed. Cir.

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 10, 2014 9:16 AM

Is Android a byproduct of copyright infringement? It's a heck of a question, one that has no easy answer.

Google used bits of Oracle's Java APIs when it built Android. APIs (application programming interfaces) are the tools used to carry out functions on a computer. No one disputes this. But Oracle claims that it had a copyright on its APIs, while Google argues that APIs aren't copyrightable at all.

So far, the lower courts have split. A district court agreed with Google that a "utilitarian and functional set of symbols" is the only "way to declare a given method functionality" and therefore cannot be copyrighted. The Federal Circuit, on the other hand, held that the APIs were copyrightable, but that a fair use defense might apply.

Google doesn't want to rely upon a possible fair use defense, so it has asked the Supreme Court to take the case, Reuters reports.

SCOTUS Week at FindLaw

What's at Stake?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the Federal Circuit's ruling dangerous, arguing that the ability to build on others' APIs is necessary for innovation. Google argued the same in its petition for certiorari, noting the long history of tech companies borrowing from each others' APIs.

"Early computer companies could have blocked vast amounts of technological development by claiming 95-year copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming," Google wrote.

The EFF also argues that the Federal Circuit's ruling "hand[s] Oracle and others veto power over any developer who wants to create a compatible program" and warned that the decision would lead to more litigation, which is "good for the legal profession -- but not so good for everyone else." (Hell yes!)

And, of course, there's the dollar figure: Oracle is asking for $1 billion in damages.

What About Fair Use?

Google argued in the initial trial that its use of the APIs was fair use, and might have to fall back on that argument if the High Court does not take the case. Much of its fair use defense relied on Sun Microsystems' alleged endorsement and encouragement of Google's use of the APIs, reports The New York Times.

Sun, which invented Java, was later sold to Oracle. Oracle, of course, then brought the copyright claims.

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