Disruptive Competition Project
655 15th St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 783-0070
Fax: (202) 783-0534
Following its 2010 acquisition of Sun, Oracle launched a long-running copyright litigation against Google, alleging that Android’s compatibility with Sun’s Java amounted to IP infringement. In May 2012, the district court found that the elements of the Java application programming interface (API) copied by Google were not protectable by copyright. In 2014, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court in a controversial ruling condemned by legal scholars and the software development community. The Supreme Court declined to review the Federal Circuit’s ruling. In September 2016, Google won again at the district court level. A federal jury found that Google’s use in Android of a tiny fraction of elements in the Java API was legally permissible “fair use.” In 2018, the Federal Circuit overturned this decision, in essence holding that the jury’s verdict was entitled to no weight.
While the district court judge and a federal jury have looked carefully at the evidence and found no wrongdoing, Oracle continues to insist Google “stole” code. The Federal Circuit, a DC appellate court, has overturned the district court twice, finding for Oracle. Google petitioned for Supreme Court review for the second time, backed by key players in the software industry and scores of public interest groups, advocacy organizations, and individual scholars. On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit and remanded for further proceedings, finding Google’s copying of the Sun Java API to be fair use as a matter of law.
The Oracle v. Google case is ripe for Supreme Court review. Below is a brief history of the case.
Oracle is part of ACIS which states in its by-laws: “Nothing in copyright law should prevent or discourage the development of interoperable products or systems.“
Sun releases lava as a free and open source programming language available for all to use without a license.
Sun supports Google’s use of Java: “We’ve obviously done a ton of work to support developers on all Java based
platforms, and we’re pleased to add Google’s Android to the list.“
Google releases Android using only lava API declarations suitable for the new smartphone platform.
Oracle acquires Sun in January of 2010.
In August 2010, Oracle sues Google for allegedly infringing Java patents and copyrights.
District court finds that Google did not infringe Java interfaces. In 2013, Oracle files an appeal before the Federal Circuit.
Federal Circuit finds Java APIs are protected by copyright–sending the dispute back to district court to be tried for fair use.
Google petitions for a writ of certiorari at SCOTUS to appeal Federal Circuit decisions. Cert is denied in July 2015.
District court jury finds that Google’s use qualifies as fair use.
Oracle appeals and the Federal Circuit overturns the jury’s decision.
Google again asks SCOTUS to hear the case.
The Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit and remanded for further proceedings, finding Google’s copying of the Sun Java API to be fair use as a matter of law.