Supreme Court Declines Ruling in Oracle v. Google Copyright Case

By: Joyce Klemmer

Oracle sued Google in 2010 seeking more than one billion dollars in damages alleging that Google’s Android Smart Phone operating system infringed its copyrights in the Java platform. In May 2012, the trial judge ruled that Oracle’s Java application program interface (API) “plagiarized” by Google was not copyrightable. On May 9, 2014, the Federal Circuit ruled in Oracle’s favor on the copyrightability issue and remanded the issue of fair use to the district court.

Following the decision, the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted: “The implications of [the Federal Circuit’s] decision are significant and dangerous. As we and others tried to explain to the court, the freedom to reimplement and extend existing APIs has been the key to competition and progress in both hardware and software development. It made possible the emergence and success of many robust industries we now take for granted—for mainframes, PCs, workstations/servers, and so on—by ensuring that competitors could challenge established players and advance the state of the art. In other words, excluding APIs from copyright protection has been essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet.”

In October 2014 Google petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Federal Circuit’s decision.  The Supreme Court requested the input of the U.S. Solicitor General asking for input on whether the petition should be granted. The Solicitor General filed a brief recommending that the petition should be denied. In June 2015 the Supreme Court denied Google’s petition. The case will now return to the district court for a trial on Google’s fair use defense.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to weigh in on the copyright fight between Google and Oracle may have implications for future software development. These issues are discussed in the article “SCOTUS Move Fuels Uncertainty for Tech.”

For more information on this topic, contact your Intellectual Property counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell.

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