Google v Oracle Timeline
Decentralizing Data Governance Summer Privacy Institute, 2023
The litigation centered around Google’s use of Java APIs (specifically, “declaring code”) in the Android operating system, whether those APIs were protectable by copyright, and if so, whether Google’s use constituted fair use under copyright law.
2005-2010: Google’s Use of Java The issue began in 2005 when Google tried to negotiate a deal with Sun Microsystems, the original owner of Java, for using its APIs in Android. When negotiations failed, Google created its own version of Java for Android but copied the “declaring code” of 37 Java APIs, amounting to about 11,500 lines of code. Google claimed it had to do so to ensure compatibility and familiarity for programmers, instead of asking people to learn a new programming language for a brand-new platform that was not a guaranteed success.
2010: Oracle Acquires Sun Microsystems In 2010, Oracle Corporation acquired Sun Microsystems, thereby gaining control of Java. Oracle was unhappy with Google in general, including its use of Java APIs, and decided to sue. In August 2010, Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that Google’s Android operating system infringed its copyrights and patents relating to Java.
2012: District Court Ruling The case first went to trial in 2012. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled in Google’s favor, stating that the APIs in question were not copyrightable because they were a “method of operation.””
2014: Federal Circuit Court Decision However, Oracle appealed this decision, and in 2014, the Federal Circuit Court reversed the District Court’s decision. The Federal Circuit heard the case because there were initially patent claims which dropped off the case, and the Federal Circuit is the sole appellate court for patents. It held that the Java APIs were copyrightable but sent the case back to the District Court to determine whether Google’s use could be considered fair use.
2016: Second District Court Trial The case returned to District Court in 2016. This time, the jury found that Google’s use of the Java APIs was covered under the fair use doctrine, once again ruling in favor of Google.
2018: Second Federal Circuit Court Decision Oracle appealed again, and in 2018, the Federal Circuit Court reversed the District Court’s decision for the second time. It held that Google’s use of the Java APIs did not constitute fair use.
2019: Supreme Court Review Google then appealed to the Supreme Court.
2021: Supreme Court Decision On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in favor of Google. The Supreme Court held that Google’s use of the Java APIs was fair use as a matter of law.