In a recent claim, Oracle America, Inc. stated that Google's reuse of 37 of 166 packages of the Java Application Program Interface (“API”) in the Android software for smart phones infringed copyright. After a two-week trial, a jury concluded that Google had made a fair and non-infringing use of the API.
For non-developers out there, APIs are, generally speaking, specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other. For example, when you read an article online, and click on the icon to share that article via Twitter, you are using a Twitter API that the site’s developer got directly from Twitter.
Importantly, the decision sets a strong precedent in an industry where programs and apps are often as much constructed from building blocks of code that already exist as they are from newly programmed code. The software industry has thrived because the court rulings in the past 25 years have converged with industry norms that allow innovative software developers to build upon existing programs and platforms to offer consumers greater choice. An Oracle victory would likely have emboldened other software firms to become more aggressive in challenging unlicensed uses.
Also, if this decision had gone in favour of Oracle, every maker of smart phones that use Android software could potentially be equally liable as Google for infringing the Java API packages. Developers of apps designed to run on the Android platform may also have faced potential liability insofar as they utilise the same Java API packages when developing their apps for the Android platform. Oracle has announced that it will appeal the decision.
This case serves as a useful reminder of the current legal position for software development businesses out there.