Google Wins Copyright Ruling on Use of Java in Android

Google Inc. was free to replicate and use elements of Oracle Corp.’s Java programming language when it developed Android software, a federal judge said in dismissing Oracle’s claim that Google infringed its copyrights.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said in a ruling today that “copyright law does not confer ownership over any and all ways” to implement Java. Oracle sued Google in 2010 alleging the search-engine provider infringed copyrights when it used Oracle’s Java application programming interfaces, software tools programmers use, to create Android.

“Google has violated no copyright, it being undisputed that Google’s implementations are different,” Alsup said today.

Jurors found May 7 that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights and deadlocked on whether it was “fair use.” Without a jury verdict on that question, Alsup said Redwood City, California-based Oracle couldn’t seek any damages, which it had estimated at $1 billion, from Mountain View, California-based Google. The same jury ruled May 23 that Google’s program didn’t infringe two Java patents at issue.

The jury found that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights for nine lines of code; Oracle can seek seek about $150,000 in statutory damages for that.

Oracle will appeal today’s ruling, said Deborah Hellinger, a company spokeswoman.

‘More Difficult’

“This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States and make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights against companies anywhere in the world that simply takes them as their own,” said she in an e-mail.

Oracle acquired Java when it bought Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2010. Sun and Google had unsuccessful talks about co-developing Android years before. Oracle alleged that Google should have paid for a license to use Java to develop Android, now running in 300 million mobile devices. Google said its use of Java was fair and legal.

Alsup said before trial that while the jury would be asked to decide whether Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights and patents, he would ultimately rule on whether Java’s software tools were covered by copyright.

Copyright Law

He said today that his ruling doesn’t mean that Java’s tools are free for anyone to use without a license, rather that the elements that Google copied are free for anyone to use under copyright law.

The judge dismissed Google’s request for a new trial on copyright infringement, saying in a ruling today that the issue is now moot.

“The court’s decision upholds the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development,” Jim Prosser, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The case is Oracle v. Google, 10-3561, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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