Microsoft, IBM, Google in the Latest Round Against Oracle

What appears to be the very last round of the Google-Oracle legal battle over whether the Java programming interfaces (APIs) are copyrighted is scheduled to take place in the form of a hearing in the US Supreme Court in March. A ruling is expected earlier this June, nearly ten years after Oracle sued Google for both patent and copyright infringement. Whether the plaintiff’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes reasonable use.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case can be of great importance to the software industry. A lot of modern software, yes most complex websites, depends on being able to communicate via open APIs. The APIs act as bridges between various services, applications, servers and user devices.

Therefore, many players in the industry are concerned that the Supreme Court will uphold Oracle’s case.

Several of these have recently come up with new amicus curiae statements that largely support Google’s reasoning in the case. This also includes players who have often criticized Google, including Microsoft and Mozilla.

Clearly, though, IBM and Red Hat are. In a joint statement, the two begin by stating that computer interfaces are not protected by copyright.

– This simple yet powerful principle has been a cornerstone of technological and economic growth for more than sixty years or obtained through legal, reverse engineering, they have spurred innovation through competition, increased productivity and economic efficiency, and connected the world in a way that has benefited both commercial businesses and consumers, the statement says.

IBM mentions, among other things, that it was IBM who developed the Structured Query Language (SQL) in the 1970s, which allows interfaces to send queries using references to relationships instead of physical memory locations.

According to IBM, the SQL interfaces have enabled IBM’s competitors, not least Oracle itself, to come up with competing and innovative products, including relational databases.

Reference is also made to a 1879 Supreme Court judgment, Perris v. Hexamer, where map publisher William Perris sued Ernest Hexamer for copying a character statement to a map of New York, including symbols and colors, in a map of Philadelphia.

It was Perris’s father who had invented the specific explanation, but he had not patented it. Copyright in a work does not include the system or idea embodied in the work, only the expression of that idea.

Because the character statement made up only a small part of the map, and because the two maps were copies of each other or conveyed the same information, the United States Supreme Court concluded that copying the legend was insufficient to constitute a copyright infringement of Perris.

– The analogy to Perris is simple – in both cases there is a class of defined functions (a table with definitions of map symbols in the Perris case) which is then used as part of a copyrighted work, where no violations are alleged (the programming language in the Oracle case and the city map in the Perris case). Still, despite the fact that millions have been spent on legal costs in this case, there is no indication that anyone has cited the Perris case, Rosen wrote in the same 2018 document.

Microsoft writes in the company’s statement how software development happens has changed dramatically in the 21st century.

– Innovation today depends on development in collaboration with others. It is no longer the case that software is mainly developed by a single entity or person, who develops a proprietary product in isolation. Instead, developers rely on sharing, modifying and improving previously developed code to create new products and develop new functionality, Microsoft writes.

After hearing the evidence, the jury (in the lawsuit concluded in the spring of 2016, Journ. Notice) concluded that Google’s fair use defense was valid. The Federal Circuit’s reversal of this judgment […] threatens to have disastrous consequences for innovation. It eradicates the necessary ecosystem respite that protects reasonable use, Microsoft writes.

What has Has Oracle done?
Three weeks ago, Ars Technica came up with a case that put it all in a new light. It states that Oracle has also copied another company’s APIs. Because Oracle offers an Amazon S3 Compatibility API with many of the elements of Amazon’s S3 API.

Ars Technica asked Oracle if the company has a license to copy the S3 API. A spokeswoman for Oracle then told me that the S3 API is licensed with an Apache 2.0 license and pointed to Amazon’s Software Development Kit (SDK) for Java, which comes with such a license.

But as Ars Technica points out, the SDK is not the same as the API. On the contrary, this code that uses the API is not code that implements it. Ars Technica compares this to the fact that SDK is a customer who orders a dish at a restaurant, and the API as the chef who interprets the order.

Ars Technica then refers to earlier statements from Oracle that appear to be pure contradictions in terms of what is covered by the copyright and licenses of APIs. We recommend readers to read this at Ars Technica.

However, the US technology site adds that Oracle is by no means alone in reimplementing Amazon’s S3 API. There are also several others who have done so. In addition, there are many other examples of this being done throughout the industry. As an example, Ars Technica cites technical standards such as wifi and internet protocols. These involve APIs that have been reimplemented in just about everything found by devices that support modern communication technologies.