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Google cleared of infringement in Oracle lawsuit over Java

James Niccolai | May 27, 2016
The jury found Google's use of Java was 'fair use'

But the jury didn't buy Oracle’s argument.

The outcome is a small victory for software developers, who were alarmed by an earlier decision in the case that application programming interfaces can be protected under U.S. copyright law.

Many developers had assumed APIs weren’t eligible for protection, viewing them as functional elements of software that are required to make two programs interoperate.

The earlier decision that APIs are protected still stands, meaning some developers may be wary of using another company’s APIs without permission. But the fact that Google’s fair use defense prevailed could make large vendors like Oracle think twice about bringing similar lawsuits in future.

The company stood by its allegations in a statement following the verdict.

"We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market," Oracle counsel Daley said. "Oracle brought this lawsuit to put a stop to Google’s illegal behavior.”

In the trial, Oracle accused Google of infringing its copyright when it decided to use 37 Java application programming interfaces in its Android OS. Android has gone on to dominate the smartphone market, netting Google billions of dollars in profit.

Google originally argued that APIs like those in Java aren’t eligible for protection. The federal district court judge in the case agreed, but an appeals court overturned his ruling. Google asked the US Supreme Court to reconsider the matter, but it declined.

Google’s defense turned next to the legal doctrine of fair use, which allows copying of creative works under limited circumstances, most commonly for things like criticism, satire and educational use.

The jury had to consider four factors in deciding whether Google’s use was fair. They included whether its use of Java was “transformative,” or whether it created something new and different from the original copyright work, which in this case was Java Standard Edition.

They also had to consider the extent to which Android harmed Java in the marketplace. Google's lawyers argued that Sun never succeeded in the smartphone market because it never built a decent smartphone OS - not because of Android.

It's a civil case, which means Google had to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that its use of Java was fair. That's a lower burden than in a criminal trial, when Google would have had to prove its case "beyond reasonable doubt."

The jury was required to reach a unanimous decision. A previous trial over the same issue ended with a hung jury, so the case had to be retried. In the earlier case, a majority of jurors concluded Google's use of Java was fair.


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