While many smartphone users were gazing upon their new iPhone 6 Plus’s 5.5-inch screen with wonder, there was another notable development in the mobile/tech world – the ongoing software copyright dispute between Oracle and Google over the development of the Android mobile platform just heated up again.
This past week, Google filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Federal Circuit’s ruling that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of 37 Java API packages are entitled to copyright protection (the Federal Circuit had also directed the lower court to reinstate the jury’s prior infringement finding as to the Java packages, subject to Google’s fair use defense). See Oracle America, Inc. v. Google Inc., 750 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2014).
In its petition, Google framed the issue on appeal as:
Whether copyright protection extends to all elements of an original work of computer software, including a system or method of operation, that an author could have written in more than one way.
Essentially, Google argued that, contrary to the Federal Circuit’s interpretation, the Copyright Act excludes systems and methods of operations from copyright protection and that the appeals court “erased a fundamental boundary between patent and copyright law.” Google repeatedly stressed the “certworthiness” of this dispute and the “exceptional importance” of the outcome to future innovation and software development – sometimes with expansive statements such as:
If the Federal Circuit’s holding had been the law at the inception of the Internet age, early computer companies could have blocked vast amounts of technological development by claiming… copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming.
A more complete picture of the potential issues and arguments will arrive when Oracle files its response.
We await the Court’s decision on whether it will accept the petition and perhaps bring added clarity to the sometimes murky contours of copyright protection of software.