Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Google-Oracle case will be with us for some time

Google-Oracle case will be with us for some time

Jurors in the Google-Oracle case will begin their deliberations on Tuesday Australian time, after closing arguments, to decide whether the search engine giant's use of 37 APIs from Java in its Android mobile operating system is covered under fair use.

It is only if they decide that the fair use defence is not applicable that the trial will enter a fresh phase to determine the quantum of damages that Oracle should get.

But even this trial will not be the end of the story. Whichever side wins, the matter will ultimately end up as an appeal to the Supreme Court.

It has taken four years for this second trial to start; the original trial began in 2010 and ended two years later in victory for Google. Appeals then began and finally it was back to court this year. By that reckoning, it may well be 2020 before the case is finally laid to rest.

Technology companies are, by and large, hoping that Google will win. They fear that if a company is made to pay for the use of APIs — which are copyrightable under US law — then the cost of developing software will rise. The prospect of costly litigation for likely past violations is also a genie that may raise its head.

Some are talking of the possibility that American companies may have to even relocate in order to avoid rising development costs. This may seem extreme, but in an age when the major competition comes from parts of Asia where software development costs are relatively low, it has to be a serious consideration.

Google is often painted as an open source company and this has tended to be a factor in its garnering more support from the media over the lawsuit. But this is not strictly true: Google uses licences that suit its business interests and, in truth, it avoids any open source licence that insists on the doctrine of share-and-share alike. As proprietary businesses do, Google loves open source licences that permit open slather, licences that allow all and sundry to take code, change it in any way needed and then lock it away unseen forever.

Its business practices are under the microscope in Europe where it appears likely to be hit with a massive fine before summer. And if there are no charges pending in the US, it is probably due to the fact that former officials from the company are employed in federal policy or law enforcement areas that are of commercial interest to Google.

Given that, if Google were pulled into line, it would serve the long-range interests of the software industry much more. Like Microsoft in its prime, Oracle is not exactly popular in both industry and media circles and a victory for the database maker would doubtless take many people by surprise.

But then one cannot take from others for business and profit reasons and expect that others will turn a blind eye. True, a verdict in favour of Oracle may well open the floodgates for patent and copyright trolls to have a field day. But then that would only be the effect; the cause lies with Google.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.