San Francisco: A US appeals court on Friday overturned a Google victory against Oracle in a 2012 software case, setting the stage for a new courtroom showdown between the technology groups.
The decision is set to revive Oracle’s claim for damages of as much as $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) and will introduce a new uncertainty for Google’s Android operating system, which has become the world’s most widely used smartphone software platform.
Oracle’s original case was based on claims that Android breached both patents and copyright protection in its Java technology. Java is widely used by mobile software developers to make sure their programs can run on many different handsets. The federal court in Northern California sided with Google, though Oracle appealed the copyright part of the decision to the Federal Circuit.
The dispute arose after the companies failed to agree terms for a Java licensing deal. Google went on to replicate parts of the Java software anyway, so that developers would still find it easy to write apps to run on Android — a move intended to expand the appeal of the platform and increase its chances of rivalling Apple’s iPhone.
In a decision released on Friday, the Federal Circuit ruled that the lower court had set the bar too high when assessing copyright standards, and that the software copied by Google deserved protection.
The internet company and its supporters in the open source software world have warned in the past that granting copyright protection would have a widespread impact on the software industry.
The case turned on APIs, or pieces of code that let programs run on top of operating systems like Android. By limiting the ability of others to reverse-engineer APIs, Google claimed that a decision in favour of Oracle would make it harder to create technologies that operate well together, holding back innovation.
In hailing Friday’s decision, however, Oracle countered that greater legal protection for software code would boost innovation, not hamper it. “The Federal Circuit’s opinion is a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs,” it said.
Google said after the hearing: “We’re disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options.”
The case was referred back to the lower court to decide whether Google was entitled to a defence of “fair use”, which allows limited copying in certain circumstances. The 2012 case led to a heated face-off between the technology companies, with chief executives Larry Page and Larry Ellison both taking the stand to make their case.