Google has vowed to pursue a long-running legal dispute with Oracle to the Supreme Court after the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a March ruling that the company is in violation of Oracle’s copyright on Android API code.
The bitterly fought case was first filed in 2010. Oracle’s copyright claim was upheld in 2012 and the clash has continued through six years of courtroom ping-pong since in what has been described as the copyright case of the decade.
Damages could amount to $8.8 billion if Google loses.
In March this year the appeals court reversed a 2016 jury finding of fair use that deemed Google’s actions acceptable, concluding that Google’s use of Oracle’s Java software to create the Android OS went beyond the bounds of “fair use”.
The case revolves around Google’s use of Java APIs (without a licence) to enable Java programmers to build Android apps. When Oracle bought the rights to Java in 2009, it fired the starting gun on the case. Those who have taken similar steps – which are common – could face a wave of litigation if Oracle wins.
A Google loss would not kill Android. The company switched to a fully open source version of Java with the Nougat release of Android in 2016.
Google may, howeverm have been factoring in the likelihood of a Supreme Court case loss when developing its nascent OS Fuchsia, a potential Android and Chrome replacement, which Bloomberg reports 100 engineers are working on.
As detailed by Computer Business Review, the OS is based on a very small custom kernel from Google called “Zircon”, rather than Linux and, unusually, comes with some elements written in C++.
Describing it as a “a play to build a unified platform for mobile and heavier-weight devices”, software engineer Ashley Narayanen earlier told Computer Business Review: “It relies on the Flutter SDK which is already able to build and target Android apps, so likely it’s no stretch to rebuild current Android apps for Fuchsia… they could potentially launch this new OS PC/mobile ready with the entire Android ecosystem ready to go.
He added: “I notice also that Google have opted to implement Swift (which is an Apple-only language at present) as an option for developing applications. Maybe an attempt to also woo Apple developers…”
Google told the Register: “We are disappointed that the Federal Circuit overturned the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone. We will appeal to the Supreme Court to defend this principle against companies like Oracle, whose restrictive practices threaten to stifle the work of new generations of tech developers. This is an important issue with wide implications for developers and the digital economy.”
Oracle has said the decision in its favour earlier this year “upholds fundamental principles of copyright law”.