In a landmark case for the tech industry, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Google's
If legal proceedings can be characterized as "battles," the decade-long proceedings between Google and Oracle could be characterized as "legal trench warfare." Starting back in 2010, Oracle launched the first move of the 10-year battle, suing Google and accusing the firm of copyright infringement. In the first decision of the protracted conflict, a lower court found that the use of Application Programming Interfaces couldn't be copyrighted due to the potential adverse effects on innovation in computing. Appeals continued, with each side gaining ground on the other in a wave of back-and-forth decisions ruling in favor of both firms until the case ended up before SCOTUS in November.
At the time, justices had issued conflicting statements, leaving the case's fate up to speculation. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Steven Breyer both supported Google's argument, with Breyer equating the widespread use of APIs to the universal adoption of the QWERTY keyboard layout. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh both voiced their belief that Oracle was in the right, with Kavanaugh equating the use of API to copying song lyrics. Justice Sotomayor, however, also expressed her concern over the potential negative consequences of ruling in favor of Oracle.
In the court's opinion, penned by Justice Breyer, SCOTUS ultimately found that Google's use of the API fell in line with the industry's existing practices and was "transformative," meaning that the lines of code were ultimately used to create an entirely new product. The court's opinion will allow the industry to continue as it has, using existing APIs to streamline creating new programs and cutting back on development time and development costs.
"The decision means a lot for software compatibility," Matt Tait, COO of smartphone service provider Corellium, told NPR. "I can write platform software that other peoples' programs can run on, without worrying."
The dissenting opinion, penned by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, took umbrage with Google's use of the code "verbatim." Oracle and other critics mirrored a similar sentiment, with Oracle itself stating that Google had leveraged its considerable position to get away with using its code.
"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." Oracle said.
Despite Oracle's loss, investors don't seem to be bothered by the decision at all, likely because it reinforces the existing status quo without any major upsets. Oracle stock has trended upward throughout the first half of the week, with the firm up 2.6% over last week's closing price on Thursday.