API Permissions and the Future of Software Developers
Nearly a year after a judge issued his ruling on the patent infringement case between Oracle and Google, Oracle continues to argue its Java API copyrights against the corporate giant.
In May 2012, a jury told Judge William Alsup of the US District Court of Northern California that they ruled unanimously in favor of Google, saying its Android operating system didn’t infringe on Oracle patents.
Still at issue was the possible infringement of the structure, sequence, and organization of thirty-seven Java APIs. When the jurors went into deliberations, the judge asked them to assume the SSO was copyrightable, and under that assumption, the jurors found that Google had infringed. However, they were deadlocked about whether Google was protected under fair use, rendering the verdict moot. Alsup ruled that the SSO of the APIs was not covered under current copyright law, dismissing Oracle's infringement claims outright.
After the decision, Oracle issued an official statement to The Verge about the trial’s verdict:
Oracle presented overwhelming evidence at trial that Google knew it would fragment and damage Java. We plan to continue to defend and uphold Java's core write once run anywhere principle and ensure it is protected for the nine million Java developers and the community that depend on Java compatibility.
The software developer appears to be making good on its promise, touting some big-name supporters in its corner. Among the corporate allies seeking a reversal on Alsup’s ruling are Microsoft, IBM (via the Business Software Alliance), and former Sun Microsystems executives Scott McNealy and Brian Sutphin. Their argument seems to be that the court’s decision is bad for big business as open source and cloud-based services become more and more widespread.
So, what does this mean for software developers? Cloudbees CEO Sacha Labourey and senior vice president of products Steven G. Harris, writing for TechCrunch, say nothing good can come for industry professionals if the judge’s ruling is overturned:
Oracle lost in their attempt to protect their position using patents. They lost in their attempt to claim Google copied anything but a few lines of code. If they succeed in claiming you need their permission to use the Java APIs that they pushed as a community standard, software developers and innovation will be the losers.
The heart of their argument is the basis for free enterprise and foundation of a capitalist economy: namely, the ability for many providers to compete through their products.
Will the industry become better because companies can switch from one service provider to another by leveraging identical APIs? ask Labourey and Harris. Or will the economy be restrained by allowing vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in? The writers give a call to action, saying developers’ futures may well be at stake.