The Supreme Court found that Google could legally use elements of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (API) code when building Android.
“Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 opinion, with one justice (Amy Coney Barrett) not taking part in the ruling. It overturned an earlier federal decision, which found that Google’s use of the API had constituted infringement.
The introduction to the decision says that “Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.”
This back-and-forth has been ongoing for years. Originally, a jury found in Google’s favor, saying its usage of the Java code was considered “fair use.” But in 2018, the Federal Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling that Google did indeed violate Oracle’s trademarks; that decision would have sent the case back to a California court to determine how much Google’s parent company Alphabet would owe Oracle. But the Supreme Court decided to hear Google’s appeal, and now it seems this might finally exhaust Oracle’s avenues for getting compensation from this legal battle. The Supreme Court had previously decided against weighing in on the case, but that was back in 2015.
Oracle provided the following statement from Dorian Daley, the company’s executive VP and general counsel: “The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”