On Oct. 7, the Supreme Court held a landmark hearing in the case between Oracle and Google on copyright infringement. Oracle seeks a $9 billion settlement for Google’s use of its APIs (application program interfaces), which are foundational to computer software.
Google versus Oracle in the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court case involves the question of whether APIs fall under the umbrella of copyright protection. For about 90 minutes on Oct. 7, the eight Supreme Court justices heard testimony and discussed a range of potential analogies to describe the nature of computer software.
Oracle claims that Google infringed on copyright when it used parts of Oracle's code to build the Android operating system. As Forbes reported, Google argues that this is an example of “fair use” and not subject to copyright.
The use of APIs by competing companies was compared to a restaurant menu design, the QWERTY keyboard, animal species classification, and the periodic table of elements, according to CNN.
CNN reported that the outcome of the case “could determine the future of software development in the United States.” If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Oracle, there will likely be many similar lawsuits in the future.
What is Oracle?
Oracle Corporation has gone by several names since its inception. The company was founded in 1977 by Larry Ellison, Bob Miner, and Ed Oates as Software Development Laboratories, according to Britannica. The company develops and markets computer software applications.
In 1979, the company’s commercial relational database program, Oracle, was released. Oracle was the first database program of its kind to use SQL (Structured Query Language).
Oracle has made several multibillion-dollar deals to acquire corporations including Peoplesoft in 2005, Sun Microsystems in 2010, and NetSuite in 2016.
When did Oracle sue Google?
The Google versus Oracle lawsuit started in 2010. Oracle sued Google for using elements of its Java programming language to build its Android operating system. Android technology is used to power billions of smartphones.
According to The Verge, 37 Java APIs, or about 11,500 lines of code, are at the heart of Oracle’s claim. The company doesn't state that Google copied the lines exactly. Oracle said that the “structure, sequence, and organization” of the APIs is similar enough to violate copyright law.
Dorian Daley, Oracle’s general counsel, said that “all software is covered by copyright and that Google’s copying for its own commercial advantage and expediency can’t possibly be fair use,” according to Forbes.
The Verge asserted that the lawsuit isn't entirely rational. “Software exists in layers upon iterative layers” and at some point, it’s better to encourage technology to remain the same. “New languages are derived from the old.”
Forbes noted that a 5-3 vote in Google’s favor would be needed to overturn an appeals court ruling that went against Google. The court may also delay voting until a ninth justice has been instated.
Oracle's stock price today
Oracle stock came in at $61 per share in pre-market trading as of 8:52 a.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 8.
Google's stock today
Google stock was priced at $1,465 on Oct. 8 at 8:50 a.m. ET in pre-market trading, according to MarketWatch.