The copyright phase of the Oracle-Google trial concluded last week after two weeks of presenting evidence and witnesses from both parties. Oracle is suing Google for infringing their Java patents when they built the Android platform, claiming that Java APIs are copyrighted and Google was the only one who used them without getting a license from Sun Microsystems, who created Java and was bought by Oracle. Google argued that a license wasn’t needed since Java is an open source and Sun knew what they were doing and at that time, happy for Google’s efforts and even considered creating a phone with Google, but the partnership fell through. Now Oracle wants Google to pay for damages, setting out to get their share of Android’s revenue.
The thing is, the jury involved in the Oracle-Google case is not well-versed in information technology and they are now having a hard time deliberating as to whether or not Google violated Oracle’s copyright.
Last Thursday, the jury asked U.S. District Judge William Alsup as to what would happen if they couldn’t reach a decision unanimously. The presiding judge asked them to take the rest of the day off and continue deliberations on Friday. Unfortunately, the deliberations on Friday were also uneventful so another day was given for deliberations. The jury is expected to come up with a unanimous decision today, but if they still can’t resolve the remaining issue, the judge is willing to accept a partial verdict. But this decision is not yet final. The jury needs to unanimously answer the four questions in the verdict form.
“If there is hope for reaching a verdict on all the questions, we should take advantage of that hope and spend one more day deliberating,” Alsup told the jury in federal court. “So what I’m going to ask you to do is do exactly that.”
While a jury mulls over the ability to copyright an API in the U.S., Europe has already made a decision on the matter. of A report from Wired reveals that a European court ruled that APIs aren’t copyrightable, which has its own implications for the Google-Oracle case. Judge Alsup asked both parties how that ruling should be viewed with regards to the ongoing lawsuit, giving Google and Oracle until May 14 to comment on the European ruling.
So it seems like the copyright phase of the trial won’t receive a verdict until the European ruling had been addressed in court, and it appears Alsup may have something to say on the matter as well. The jury is not responsible in determining if APIs are copyrightable, that’s the judge’s problem.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that APIs aren’t copyrightable in the SAS Institute Inc. v World Programming Ltd case, stating that “neither the functionality of a computer program nor the programming language and the format of data files used in a computer program” are expressive enough to qualify for copyright protection.
“To accept that the functionality of a computer program can be protected by copyright would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development,” the court said.
Industry pundits think that it would be destructive if the U.S. court concludes that APIs are copyrightable. A lot of the things we know now might change if the court favors Oracle. CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) Ed Black, a tech industry lobbying group that counts Google as a member but not Oracle, offered the EU ruling as a lesson for the U.S courts.
“This ruling should be instructive in the Java litigation in the U.S.,” said Black in a statement. “Improperly extending copyright protection to building blocks of innovation could cripple domestic software development and drive innovation abroad. We hope the ECJ’s correct decision will help guide U.S. courts to get this right, as now America’s competitiveness is at stake.”