Google v. Oracle Round Two: Why the Federal Circuit Got it Wrong

Dec 30, 2021

Yue Deng-Wu

When Google developed its mobile platform, Android, the company copied some of the code as well as the structure, sequence, and organization (SSO) of 37 Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Oracle gained ownership of Java, a widely-used open-source software language, when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010. Java has 166 API packages, which is essentially a library of pre-written code for common programming functions. An API’s SSO is the name of the API, its structure, and its function.

Oracle filed an action for copyright infringement against Google for its use of 37 Java APIs. In 2014, the Federal Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling and held that APIs are copyrightable. A second trial followed this decision on the issue of fair use. After nine days of trial and four days of deliberation, the jury found for Google. On December 7, 2017, the parties returned to the Federal Circuit to argue the merits of Google’s fair use defense. On March 27, 2018, Federal Circuit issued an opinion, holding that Google’s use of Java APIs was not fair use as matter of law.

This paper seeks to show that Google’s use of Java APIs was fair and, more generally, that courts should consider use of API declaration codes to be fair use in future cases. Part II details the development of Java and Android and an overview of the technology at issue, namely Java programming language and Android platform. Part III discusses the Federal Circuit’s most recent opinion and will show that Google’s use of Java API declaration codes should be considered fair use.