We could reach a milestone today in the high-profile trial over Oracle’s allegations that Google illegally used its Java technology to build Android software. A verdict is expected today after the jury ended last week in unanimous agreement on all but one of the issues being covered in this first portion of the trial. U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the 12 jurors Friday afternoon in hopes that the weekend would give them time to think through the evidence and reach an agreement on the remaining unsolved issue. The jury has reportedly spend over 25 hours in deliberations after the first two weeks of hearing evidence from Oracle and Google, including CEOs Larry Ellison and Larry Page.
If the jury cannot resolve the remaining issue, Alsup is expected to accept a partial verdict and move on to the second phase of the trial, which addresses Oracle’s claims that Google violated two Java patents with its Android mobile operating system. Google maintains that it only used portions of Java that have always been freely available, arguing its actions are protected by the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law.
Global implications of API copyright
A partial verdict from the jury could be good for Oracle, if they’re able to make their case in the remaining two portions of the trial. But however this case ends, the implications reach far beyond the courtroom, potentially affecting the future of cloud computing at the industry level. APIs are central to the current cloud computing industry, now filled with ongoing efforts to clone Amazon Web Services APIs in particular as storage, access and developer needs increase around virtual services. As a recent Wired article points out, a ruling in favor of Oracle could give Amazon grounds to take its rivals to court, including RackSpace’s new OpenStack project and Citrix’s CloudStack initiative.
“If APIs can be copy-protected, that would be incredibly destructive to the internet as a whole for so many different reasons,” says George Reese, Chief Technology Officer with enStratus Networks, a seller of cloud management services. “But with respect to cloud, in particular, it would put any company that has implemented the Amazon APIs at risk unless they have some kind of agreement with Amazon on those APIs.”
And reaching even further than a courtroom or Silicon Valley, the Oracle-Google case could impact API usage on a global scale. This week, a European court ruled that APIs are not copyrightable, and Alsup himself could end up ruling on the copyright question, based on his recent request for Google and Oracle to submit briefs on how the European ruling should be viewed by the court. Both parties have until May 14 to comment on this, adding even more complexity to the very matter the jury is simultaneously deliberating.