We're hearing via The Verge that Judge William Alsup has just handed down his decision on the copyrightability of Oracle's 37 Java API's, asserted by Oracle as having been infringed by Google in the Android operating system. This is probably the most important issue of the entire case. While a jury decided that Google did infringe Oracle's APIs as asserted by Oracle, that decision hinged on the assumption that the APIs were in fact copyrightable in the way Oracle had insisted they were.
Alsup determined that Oracle's API's are not, in fact, copyrightable in their "sequence, structure, and organization," and the related infringement claims against Google have been dismissed. This isn't the end of the road for Oracle, though - the appeal process will drag this on at least another six months. Alsup's decision was apparently narrowly tailored to the specifics of this case - meaning the anticipated wide-reaching decision on the copyrightability of APIs as a whole won't be coming down this time. Here's what Alsup had to say:
In closing, it is important to step back and take in the breadth of Oracle's claim. Of the 166 Java packages, 129 were not violated in any way. Of the 37 accused, 97 percent of the Android lines were new from Google and the remaining three percent were freely replicable under the merger and names doctrines. Oracle must resort, therefore, to claiming that it owns, by copyright, the exclusive right to any and all possible implementations of the taxonomy-like command structure for the 166 packages and/or any subpart thereof - even though it copyrighted only one implementation. To accept Oracle's claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands. No holding has ever endorsed such a sweeping proposition.
By providing a narrow, fact-specific discussion of the issue, Judge Alsup has given Google a considerable advantage at the appellate level. If Alsup's decision isn't particularly far-reaching or broad in its scope, the appellate level court will be less keen on overturning the decision and prolonging an already bitter legal battle. The excerpt from the conclusion of his decision also just makes sense - Oracle is basically trying to argue that an API can be copyrighted in an almost patent-like fashion (as something protected in function more than form), and that's just absurd.
This leaves a minor copyright claim with a maximum of $300,000 in statutory damages available (that Oracle very likely won't get), and a second copyright claim that is essentially damage-less.
That said, anything can happen in the 9th Circuit - so we'll see how this case turns out on appeal. For now, it's a big win for Android, and Google's counsel should be breaking out the bubbly.