US Supreme Court to review ruling on copyright and APIs

The outcome of Oracle v Google will have significant effects on past and future software development given the prolific use of APIs. 

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided to review what has emerged as one of the most significant software copyright decisions of recent years: the 2018 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit pronouncing that Google infringed on Oracle’s copyrights after an independent implementation of Oracle’s Java programming language was created by Google.

In January this year, Google filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court to challenge the two rulings made by the Appeals Court in Oracle’s favor in 2018.

In its petition, Google centered their case on whether copyright extends to a software interface like an application programming interface (API), and whether the use of the Java API by Google fell within fair use as found during jury trials at the initial phase of the case.

Google stated that the ruling by the Appeals Court “will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs”.

The Supreme Court called for the views of the US Solicitor General on April 29, 2019, asking for a brief outlining the government’s stance on the case to be filed.

In September this year, US President Donald Trump’s administration backed Oracle and urged the Court to deny certiorari. Businesses like Microsoft, Mozilla Corporation and Red Hat Inc. filed amicus briefs in support of Google’s position.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on November 15, 2019, and is expected to hear the case during the 2019 term.