Displaying items by tag: Supreme Court

Oracle v Google: the software copyright case of the decade

Written on Thursday, 08 October 2020 09:26

Ten years after Oracle first sued Google over the code used in its Android platform, the two tech giants are finally facing off in the Supreme Court.

The dispute concerns about 11,500 lines of code that Google used to build its popular Android mobile operating system, which were replicated from the Java application programming interface developed by Sun Microsystems – a wholly owned subsidiary of Oracle since 2010.

Oracle sued Google shortly afterward, arguing that the company’s use of the code violates its ownership rights. Google, on the other hand, has said the code it copied was purely functional, and that its own engineers authored all of Android’s code that could be said to be creative and subject to copyright protection.

Not only are billions of dollars at stake but also the law of copyright in the internet era, and which types of code will be subject to protection. The blockbuster dispute is sure to capture the attention of Silicon Valley as it could have far-reaching consequences for the future of software innovation.

Where did it all begin?

Oracle v Google is an ongoing legal case dating back to 2010. The dispute centers on the use of parts of the Java programming language's application programming interfaces (APIs), which are owned by Oracle, within early versions of the Android operating system by Google. Google has admitted to using the APIs, and has since transitioned Android to a copyright-unburdened engine, but argues their original use of the APIs was within fair use.

Oracle initiated the suit arguing that the APIs were copyrightable, seeking US$8.8 billion in damages. While two District Court-level jury trials have found in favor of Google, the Federal Circuit court has reversed both decisions, asserting APIs are copyrightable and Google's application of them failed a fair use defense. Google successfully petitioned to the Supreme Court to hear the case in the 2019 term, focusing on the copyrightability of APIs and subsequent fair use. This ruling is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

What’s happening now?

The difficulty of this case is that the world is very different now to what it was when the case was filed a decade ago.

Both companies have changed hands — the lawsuit began while Larry Ellison was still at the helm of Oracle and Eric Schmidt was the CEO of Google. Similarly, three Supreme Court seats have been vacated since the last time Google asked the high court to review its case; one justice has retired and two have passed away — most recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The trial, held this week via teleconference, intends to explain programming to a non-technical jury who will subsequently set precedent for the future of copyright law.

Google lawyer Thomas Goldstein told the justices that the disputed Java code should not receive copyright protection because it was the “the only way” to create new programs using the programming language. “The language only permits us to use those,” Goldstein said.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested Google still should have paid Oracle for a license to Java. “Cracking the safe may be the only way to get the money that you want, but that doesn’t mean you can do it,” Roberts said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned Goldstein on whether Google had simply piggybacked on Oracle’s innovation. Gorsuch asked, “What do we do about the fact that the other competitors, Apple, Microsoft ... have, in fact, been able to come up with phones that work just fine without engaging in this kind of copying?”

Google has said the shortcut commands it copied into Android do not warrant copyright protection because they help developers write programs to work across platforms, a key to software innovation.

Court observers found that while the Justices seemed to side with Oracle on the copyright arguments, they also took deference to the arguments presented by Microsoft, who had taken Google's side on the case. Microsoft argued in an amicus brief that ruling in Oracle's favor could upend the software industry.

Several justices noted how consequential a decision in the case could be. “I’m concerned,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told a lawyer for Google, “that, under your argument, all computer code is at risk of losing protection.”

What impact will the outcome have?

The case is of significant interest within the tech and software industries, as numerous computer programs and software libraries, particularly in open source, are developed by recreating the functionality of APIs from commercial or competing products to aid developers in interoperability between different systems or platforms.

If this ruling is allowed to stand, it is believed that companies will be forced to implement deliberately incompatible standards to protect themselves from the risk of complex litigation, moving away from the current trends in software development which have focused on improving interoperability between different services allowing apps to communicate with one another, creating more integrated platforms for end users.

Several of the court’s conservatives, including Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, noted that Google’s allies had warned that the “sky will fall” if Oracle won. 

“We are told if we agree with Oracle we will ruin the tech industry in the United States,” Roberts said at one point to Malcolm Stewart, a Justice Department attorney who represented the United States and argued in favor of Oracle. 

It is clear that the Supreme Court is divided over this landmark case. Some of the eight justices expressed concern that Google simply copied Oracle’s software code instead of innovating and creating its own for mobile devices. Others emphasized that siding with Oracle could give software developers too much power with potentially harmful effects on the technology industry.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Published in Government

Huawei, ZTE lose landmark patent appeals

Written on Wednesday, 26 August 2020 13:53

The UK’s Supreme Court unanimously dismissed appeals by China's Huawei and ZTE in patent disputes over mobile data technology with Unwired Planet International and Conversant Wireless.

The first appeal concerned an action brought by Unwired against Huawei for the infringement of five UK patents, which Unwired had acquired from Ericsson and were said to be essential in mobile telecoms.

An English court had previously ruled that two of the patents were valid and essential, and in a subsequent trial found Unwired's licence terms were justified and enforceable.

The second appeal concerned action brought by Conversant against Huawei and ZTE for infringing four of its UK patents, which had been acquired from Nokia and related to LTE standards used by 4G handsets to download and send data.

Huawei and ZTE argued that the English Courts did not have jurisdiction to determine the validity of foreign patents. But the trial judge had ruled against them, saying the court had jurisdiction under an international patent framework agreed by the mobile industry.

Conversant's CEO Boris Teksler said he was "very pleased" by the outcome, which the firm said would have "significant implications worldwide" for standard-essential-patent (SEP) licensing.

"It confirms Conversant Wireless' approach, that as a holder of cellular standard-essential patents, we can seek proper value for our patents without having to resort to what the UK courts themselves called the 'madness' of country-by-country licensing and related litigation," he said.

"This helps level the playing field when small companies are trying to license SEP portfolios to global giants with seemingly limitless litigation resources."

Published in Telecom Vendors

Indian operator Reliance Communications has made a partial payment of $18.6m to Ericsson in an effort to defuse their ongoing dispute after the Swedish vendor had called for the imprisonment of its chairman Anil Ambani after the company’s failure to pay the entirety of the services charges owed.

In a statement released by RCom, it confirmed that it had deposited a payment of $18.6 with the Supreme Court registry from operational funds it had at its disposal. In addition to this, it said it was taking all required steps towards enabling a settlement.

The Indian conglomerate also stressed in the statement that it remained fully committed to making the outstanding payment to Ericsson, and said it would be able to do so with the proceeds of a spectrum asset sale to Reliance Jio.

Ericsson is owed $78.5m in unpaid service charges, but the dispute between the pair escalated when RCom failed to settle the service charge on the date it was instructed to by the Supreme Court. In response to this, Ericsson increased the pressure on the Indian firm by filing a second contempt of court case against Anil Ambani, and said he should be detained in civil prison until the outstanding amount is settled.

RCom, which has all but exited the Indian mobile market, missed the original 30 September deadline to make the payment, but was then granted a reprieve until 15 December, a deadline which it also missed.

The company argued it was unable to make the payment in time because of delays by regulator Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in approving its spectrum sale to Reliance Jio, a deal first struck in December 2017. RCom reached a deal to sell off the majority of its mobile assets to Reliance Jio after creditors, including Ericsson, took action against the company over huge debts.

Published in Telecom Vendors

Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson has called for the detainment of Anil Ambani, the chairman of Indian operator Reliance Communications (RCom) for its failure to pay the vendor a settlement fee of INR5.5bn ($78.5m) of unpaid service charges.

Ericsson was forced to file a second contempt of court proceeding against Reliance Communications when they failed to process the outstanding settlement charge. In addition to this, it was further disclosed that the vendor requested in the petition to the Supreme Court that the chairman of Reliance Communications should be barred from leaving the country and be detained in civil prison. It has also been reported that Ambani provided the Supreme Court with a personal guarantee.

However, RCom has also filed a case against the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) claiming that the delays in approving long-planned spectrum sales and auctions had prevented it from being able to pay Ericsson. The court will hear both cases on the 7th of January.

The former mobile operator missed the original payment deadline of 30 September, and then last month the high court rejected its plea to extend a 15 December deadline, which it had also missed. The earlier extension was granted by the court due to a delay in finalising the sale of its assets to Reliance Jio.

Twelve months ago, RCom brokered a deal with Jio to sell off assets including 800MHz spectrum to repay part of its huge debt. DoT later demanded payment of the dues as a condition for approving the agreement, but RCom is disputing the spectrum charge in court.

DoT last month rejected the spectrum deal on the grounds that it goes against trading guidelines after Jio sought assurances it won’t be held responsible for RCom’s past spectrum-related charges, which could total as much as INR29.5 billion.

Published in Telecom Vendors