Oracle, Google Begin Legal Battle Over Java APIs

NEWS ANALYSIS: When all is said and done in about 10 weeks, this federal case could have a profound effect on Java and Android application development -- and, in fact, all software development.

IT giants Oracle and Google on April 16 began their legal battle in federal district court in Oracle's lawsuit accusing Google of misusing its proprietary Java APIs to help create the second-most-popular mobile device operating system in the world, Android.

Jury selection began April 16 at the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Francisco. The Hon. William Alsup is serving as presiding judge in the case, which the court clerk said is expected to last up to 10 weeks.

oracle_clr.jpg

Oracle is seeking nearly $1 billion in damages. Opening statements will begin immediately after the jury is sworn in.

Oracle is represented by two of the most feared IP law firms in the world: Boies Schiller Flexner of Armonk, N.Y., and Morrison & Foerster of Palo Alto, Calif. Google is represented by Keker & Van Nest of San Francisco.

Oracle first filed suit in August 2010, claiming that Google illegally used seven Java application programming interfaces that Oracle owns to help build the Android operating system. Google contends that the APIs it uses cannot be copyrighted because doing so would be similar to copyrighting a technique used to perform a task. Legally, techniques are not considered intellectual property.

Oracle claims in the lawsuit that the "specifications and implementations of the APIs are not a method of operation or system."

Oracle versus Google could well become a textbook case in the software intellectual property realm by defining whether APIs are software or techniques.

Details on the Lawsuit

Oracle America, which is what Oracle renamed Sun after the acquisition in 2010, has stockpiled thousands of patents for the last 15 years but released most Java technologies to open source in 2006. The Android operating system includes Java applications running on a Java-based application framework, with core libraries running on a Dalvik virtual machine.

According to the lawsuit, "Google actively distributes Android (including, without limitation, the Dalvik VM and the Android software development kit) and promotes its use by manufacturers of products and applications."

Contrary to popular belief, it appears Google did not have a licensing agreement with Sun for Java despite Oracle's claim that Google engineers were aware of the patents. Google, Oracle argued, facilitated the use of Android in smartphones and other products despite knowledge of Sun's existing patents.

"By purposefully and voluntarily distributing one or more of its infringing products and services, Google has injured Oracle America and is thus liable to Oracle America for infringement of the patents at issue," according to the suit.

Oracle is asking the U.S. District Court in Northern California for damages and an injunction against Google from using its IP in Android.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...