Google Wins Java Copyright Case Against Oracle

Oracle Corp. sued Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., in 2010 for using parts of Java without permission in its Android smartphone software.  ENLARGE
Oracle Corp. sued Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., in 2010 for using parts of Java without permission in its Android smartphone software. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO—A federal jury here ruled that Google’s use of Oracle Corp.’s Java software didn’t violate copyright law, the latest twist in a six-year legal battle between the two Silicon Valley titans.

Oracle sued Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., in 2010 for using parts of Java without permission in its Android smartphone software. A federal appeals court ruled in 2014 that Oracle could copyright the Java parts, but Google argued in a new trial this month that its use of Java was limited and covered by rules permitting “fair use” of copyright material.

A 10-person jury on Thursday agreed.

Google acknowledged using 11,000 lines of Java software code. But it said that amounted to less than 0.1% of the 15 million lines of code in its Android mobile-operating system, which runs most of the world’s smartphones.

“Today’s verdict that Android makes fair use of Java APIs represents a win for the Android ecosystem, for the Java programming community, and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products,” Google said in a statement.

The verdict is unlikely to end the long legal saga, which already had a brief stop at the U.S. Supreme Court. Oracle quickly said it would appeal.

“We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market,” Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement. “Oracle brought this lawsuit to put a stop to Google’s illegal behavior. We believe there are numerous grounds for appeal and we plan to bring this case back to the Federal Circuit on appeal.”

The tech community has watched the case closely because it could set precedent for how software programs use so-called application program interfaces, or APIs, important snippets of computer code that help apps, websites or programs talk to each other.

Oracle sued Google for using 37 Java APIs in Android. Google said requiring it to have a license for the APIs would stifle software innovation by discouraging programmers from using APIs. That would make software development harder and could render some apps inoperable, Google said.

Oracle, meanwhile, argued that Google took its property without permission. Oracle says the verdict hurts innovation by weakening intellectual-property protections for software and discouraging tech companies from investing to create new programs.

In prior rounds, tech companies were split on the case. On the issue of whether Java was copyrightable, for instance, Hewlett-Packard Co., Red Hat Inc. and Yahoo Inc. backed Google, while Microsoft Corp. sided with Oracle.

During the nearly three-week trial, Google argued that executives at Java’s creator, Sun Microsystems Inc., didn’t believe Google needed a license to use Java. Oracle acquired Sun in 2010. Former Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz, a Google witness, testified that he was upset Google never obtained a license for Java, but he didn’t think it needed one.

Oracle argued that Google executives knew they needed a license to use the Java APIs but decided to use them anyway. Oracle showed internal Google emails in which executives discussed needing a license.

Write to Jack Nicas at [email protected]


WSJ.com: US Business

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