Supreme Court denies Google request in Java infringement case

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Google to hear a case in which it was accused of infringing Oracle copyrights by using Java in its Android mobile operating system.

In a huge victory for Oracle, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Google's appeal of a May 2014 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In that decision, the appeals court ruled that Java APIs used by Google were covered by copyright. The Supreme Court decision opens the door for Oracle, which purchased Java developer Sun Microsystems in 2010, to charge licensing fees for Java in Android.

But before that happens, the case goes back to a district court to decide questions about whether Google had a fair use exemption to copyright law for Java in Android.

Google, while developing Android in the mid-2000s, wrote its own version of Java, but its version used some of the same functionality of Sun's Java APIs. Google's use of Java was originally welcomed by Sun, but the two companies couldn't come to agreement on a possible partnership and licensing deal.

Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley, in a statement, called the Supreme Court decision a "win for innovation and for the technology industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation."

A Google spokesman, in an email, said the company will "continue to defend the interoperability that has fostered innovation and competition in the software industry."

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, said it was disappointed with the decision. The Federal Circuit court's decision "explicitly left open the possibility that the kinds of uses Google made were permissible under copyright's fair use doctrine," Charles Duan, director of Public Knowledge's Patent Reform Project, said by email.

Other courts have come to different conclusions about the ability to copyright programming interfaces, Duan added. The Federal Circuit's impact on future cases is "sharply limited," he added.

The long-running case dates back to August 2010, when Oracle sued Google for copyright and patent infringement. Oracle had attempted to sign a Java licensing deal with Google, but the two sides didn't reach an agreement.

In May 2012, a jury in a district court in San Francisco found that Google's Android operating system did not infringe Oracle's Java patents. The following month, Oracle agreed to accept zero damages for outstanding copyright infringement claims.

The appeals court then partially overturned the district court decision.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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