In the never ending courtroom sagas of Silicon Valley, a new one arose this month that could impact the recent Oracle v Google decision in favor of Google’s fair use of Oracle’s Java API. (See Will Google’s Fair Use Win Help GDC.)
Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, can be quite rich and complex as a means for communicating between one device and another. In the case of Java, it is a language now known by many programming professionals. Oracle licenses the language, apparently to all users but Google. Google didn’t want Oracle’s Java code, but its rich and complex API that programmers are familiar with.
Google used the Java API as that for its own Android software, greatly reducing the development time needed for programmers to produce apps for Android. Google claimed in court that any expansion of Android to other devices would use the same code. On that basis, the judge disallowed certain evidence from Oracle, and the jury awarded Google with the right to claim fair use, avoiding copyright infringement of Oracle’s API. All were happy in the open source world. Woe to those with intellectual property.
Things seemed to be going quite well for Google until an Ars Technica article appeared online, covering an interview with Google’s engineering director in which he stated that Google’s port of Android to its Chrome OS, a new product, was not a port, as Google reported to the jury, but a complete redesign from the ground up. In other words, Google has engaged in repeat infringement of Oracle’s copyrighted API. The judge, felt by many to be giving favor to Google, is said to not be pleased. Oracle wants a retrial. Google is said to be reviewing its options, which can’t be many at this point. It should be easy to see where this case is heading, although one shouldn’t discount a surprise.
This case was originally brought to light on these pages to illustrate the difficulty that exists in protecting intellectual property. In particular, the recent lawsuit between GDC and Dolby over the use of Dolby’s API has a similar ring to the Oracle v Google case. In truth, the particulars in the GDC v Dolby case are quite different. Oracle v Google could somewhat influence a jury for GDC v Dolby, should that case go so far in the courts.
But the subject of who has rights to what in digital cinema is an interesting one. Exhibitors are not prepared to ask such questions when purchasing equipment. When digital cinema was rolling out, companies simply worked together to make things work. Now that sales aren’t what they were in the boom years, companies pay more attention to how to disadvantage their competitors. The remedy is for exhibitors to be wiser, and make the right demands up front when purchasing new gear. And if faced with a lawsuit, best to first review that article your director of engineering is planning to publish.