A court fight that has been waged since 2012 between two tech giants Oracle and Google has come to an end, with Oracle the winner. While damages have yet to be determined, in the long term it’s smaller companies, developers and innovation that could pay the price.
In covering the decision, Mashable provided important case background as well as its impact on the future. The fight began when Google adopted Java naming protocols for Android app developers, and Oracle alleged that Google had stolen its intellectual property. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Oracle.
“The most recent ruling overturns decades of precedent about the spirit of innovation that up to this point has governed computer science: an environment in which developers build upon and improve others’ work, and write compatible programs designed to adapt to multiple ecosystems and the latest technology.”
While Oracle sees the decision as the upholding of the fundamental principles of copyright laws, Mashable foresees it as affecting developers, who could be wary of innovating for fear of facing a judge that doesn’t usually rule on consumer technology copyright law.
Mashable interviewed Parker Higgins, who works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, for his valuable insight on the case.
One of the questions posed to Higgens was why the appeals court could overrule the district court’s finding that Google was making “fair use” of the Java terms. He replied that when determining fair use, first one has to ask if there was copying. In this case, there was: Google did it for 37 Application Programming Interface (API) names. But then, the next question is, according to Higgens, was that copying fair? The four-factor test helps determine this. One of the factors is the purpose and character of the use. Was that use “transformative” and was Google acting in good faith? Specific to this case, was Google doing something different with the code than Oracle? Says Higgens:
“A lot of that came down to how transformative smart phones were. Smart phones were a fundamentally different application of Java than what Oracle was doing with it.”
He further points out that it seemed that the jury in the district court trial was convinced it was, indeed, transformative. The Federal Circuit felt otherwise because Oracle was able to point to failed Java smartphones from the past.
It’s assumed that Google will be able to pay whatever damages are settled on. But what bothers Higgens is that there have been decades and decades of precedent on the workings of computer science, software development advances and program compatibility. One had to compete based on who made the best program, not on who has a monopoly on the interface. Now, there will likely be uncertainty among programmers.
“The thing that’s hard is that we won’t see necessarily the software that doesn’t get developed because people are too afraid of copyright lawsuits.”
This, says Higgens, is what keeps him up at night: the impact on developers that aren’t the Googles of the world and innovation.