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.


David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Kellic

    I want to be ecstatic about this, but I have this bad feeling that some idiot on the court of appeals is going to rain on this verdict, even though I'm told that the appeals court has 3 judges to preside over instead of one.

    • CoreDuo08

      It'd be surprising if the verdict was overturned in appeals court. It rarely ever happens.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        I don't want to be a dick, but that statement is just flat-out wrong. Around 17% of all private civil cases appealed on the merits are reversed in the 9th Circuit. They have the second-highest reversal rate of any circuit.

        See: http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/Statistics/StatisticalTablesForTheFederalJudiciary/2011/B05Jun11.pdf

        • marcusmaximus04

          Of course, this depends on your definition of "rarely" but that DOES mean that 83% of all private civil cases appealed are *not* reversed by the 9th circuit.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

            If we had a number for copyright/IP issues exclusively, I'm sure the rate is much, much higher. These kinds of issues are very wishy-washy, and the sort of thing judges "get off" on examining intensely. Don't count your chickens, as they say.

        • CoreDuo08

          I'm not against being wrong, and I didn't really do any research to support my comment. I just based it on personally not seeing it very often.

  • http://www.anivision.org/ Christopher Bailey (Xcom923)

    Looks like the "world series" is over....glad it's in google's favor

  • NeoLawliet

    It's not just a big win for Android and Google. It's a big win for developers everywhere.

    • AppleFUD


      And with the EU making the same decision on APIs maybe the US won't fubar it during appeals.

    • TheSchwartz

      You bet it is, since Oracle unfortunately has taken over Java this is great news :-)

  • Noreen

    As I've read this, my own thoughts interpret as such:  If someone was to copy completely word for word, command for command, and executed as such, and comment that this is their very own than copyright, that infringement is likely to have occured, however if someone takes some part of this code, modifies it and "runs with the ball", changing it, thereby improving it to another level and type of operating system, technological evolution/advancements has/have occured and (complete) infringement has not entirely occured...   

    I'm just trying to make sense out of what we read that comes up as court cases.  Of course, I could be way off.  But, I'm always trying to understand, just about anything that comes my way.  And, I'll admit that I'm on the Android side!  (This is just "food for thoughts."

    • esper256

      APIs are not code. They are like goals for code.

      I could write an API:

      1A) Given an image in PNG format, return the names of the people contained within the picture.

      There. I wrote an API. I haven't written any code. The question is whether or not I can copyright a collection of statements like 1A above.

      • Noreen

        Thank you, esper236. :-)

        • Noreen

          Forgive me, I meant, esper256. Still, I do thank you.

      • http://twitter.com/andr3wjacks0n andrew jackson

        That's what I always thought an API was.

  • clifford Rosenberg

    I don't say this much but: hallelujah!

  • Goldenpins

    What now all you Google haters? Which bogus lawsuit will you pin your hopes on now?

  • Abe Lincoln

    Oracle can suck on it!