The world is (temporarily) safe for developers who use APIs: U.S. District Judge William Alsup today shot down Oracle’s last hope of obtaining a big-money verdict from Google in what the judge himself described as “the World Series” of intellectual trials.
The ruling is the third major setback for Oracle after a jury last week found Google had not infringed its patents and, earlier on, the same jury failed to find liability for copyright infringement.
In the bigger picture, the case is a strategic defeat for Oracle, which is trying to supplement its revenue stream by making aggressive legal demands based on its patent and copyright portfolio. Google and developers have argued that strapping copyright onto basic functions like user interfaces will stifle developers’ ability to innovate. If the judge had ruled that APIs were subject to copyright, an awful lot of software would have been thrust into legal limbo.
“The court’s decision upholds the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development. It’s a good day for collaboration and innovation,” said a Google spokesman in an emailed statement.
Oracle has indicated this isn’t the end of the matter, telling Wired that it would “vigorously pursue an appeal” of the decision
The crux of Alsup’s ruling today is that 37 of the Java application programming interfaces aren’t eligible for copyright in the first place. Copyright typically protects authors’ work — in the form of books, music, computer code, etc — but doesn’t extend to functions or ideas.
Oracle did extract one small, symbolic victory weeks ago after the jury found that Google had infringed on nine lines of code. The infringement makes Oracle eligible for a maximum $150,000 in damages which, even if the company receives it, is likely to be cold comfort after a “World Series” trial that is estimated to have cost both sides $50 million.