Friday, June 1, 2012

Oracle v. Google - Copyright & Patent Trial - Judge Alsup Rules Oracle's 37 Java APIs Not Copyrightable

Yesterday, Judge Alsup ruled the 37 Java APIs are not copyrightable after the jury reached a partial verdict on copyright infringement. Judge Alsup stated:

"This trial showcases a distinction between copyright protection and patent protection. It is an important distinction, for copyright exclusivity lasts 95 years whereas patent exclusivity lasts twenty years. And, the Patent and Trademark Office examines applications for anticipation and obviousness before allowance whereas the Copyright Office does not. This distinction looms large where, as here, the vast majority of the code was not copied and the copyright owner must resort to alleging that the accused stole the “structure, sequence and organization” of the work. This phrase — structure, sequence and organization — does not appear in the Act or its legislative history. It is a phrase that crept into use to describe a residual property right where literal copying was absent. A question then arises whether the copyright holder is more appropriately asserting an exclusive right to a functional system, process, or method of operation that belongs in the realm of patents, not copyrights....

Under Section 102(b), copyright protection never extends to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation or concept regardless of its form. Functional elements essential for interoperability are not copyrightable....

As long as the specific code written to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own method to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any and all methods used in the Java API. Contrary to Oracle, copyright law does not confer ownership over any and all ways to implement a function or specification, no matter how creative the copyrighted implementation or specification may be.  The Act confers ownership only over the specific way in which the author wrote out his version.  Others are free to write their own implementation to accomplish the identical function, for, importantly, ideas, concepts and functions cannot be monopolized by copyright....

Much of Oracle’s evidence at trial went to show that the design of methods in an API was a creative endeavor. Of course, that is true. Inventing a new method to deliver a new output can be creative, even inventive, including the choices of inputs needed and outputs returned.  The same is true for classes. But such inventions — at the concept and functionality level — are protectable only under the Patent Act. The Patent and Trademark Office examines such inventions for validity and if the patent is allowed, it lasts for twenty years. Based on a single implementation, Oracle would bypass this entire patent scheme and claim ownership over any and all ways to carry out methods for 95 years — without any vetting by the Copyright Office of the type required for patents. This order holds that, under the Copyright Act, no matter how creative or imaginative a Java method specification may be, the entire world is entitled to use the same method specification (inputs, outputs, parameters) so long as the line-by-line implementations are different. To repeat the Second Circuit’s phrasing, “there might be a myriad of ways in which a programmer may . . . express the idea embodied in a given subroutine.” Computer Associates, 982 F.2d at 708. The method specification is the idea. The method implementation is the expression. No one may monopolize the idea...."

Thus, Oracle's copyright case is finished unless the Federal Circuit reverses this ruling on appeal. Although  legal questions are considered de novo (anew), appealing from the well reasoned 41 page-order seems like a long shot. See Judge Alsup's order in the first article below and the other articles. This case reminds all of us that we must use patents rather than copyright to protect the functionality of software.

Judge Alsup Rules: Oracle's Java API's are no Copyrightable (Order as text) Groklaw

Google wins crucial API ruling, Oracle's case decimated - Joe Mullins of Ars technica

Judge says Google only used uncopyrightable elements of 37 Java APIs in Android - Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents.

Copyright cases like Oracle v Google are more controversial than software patent cases - Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents.

Copyright © 2012 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.