In a decision released today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Google in a decade-long dispute with Oracle that has profound implications for the software industry.
Oracle alleged that Google had infringed its copyright when it copied some elements of code from Java, which is owned by Oracle, to build its Android operating system. The two companies have been locked in litigation over the issue for a decade.
In a 6-to-2 outcome, the Supreme Court’s justices rejected a lower court decision in Oracle’s favor, ruling instead that Google’s copying of the pieces of code known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, was fair use. The fair use doctrine is designed to stop copyright protections from stifling innovation.
The ruling is a huge setback for Oracle, which had claimed up to $9 billion in damages for breach of its intellectual property. In a statement, it reiterated its claim that Google “stole” Java and urged antitrust authorities around the world to pursue their scrutiny of the Alphabet unit’s economic dominance. “The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower.”
Google said the court’s opinion was “a victory for consumers, interoperability and computer science,” and that it “gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers.”
The case had been closely watched within the software industry because copying of APIs, which are key blocks of code that allow different software applications to talk to one another and exchange information, is a common practice amongst developers. Had the court ruled in Oracle’s favor, it could have unleashed a tsunami of litigation as other companies sought to extract payment for use of their own APIs.