Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: November 15, 2019
  • Case #: 18-956
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 886 F.3d 1179 (Fed. Cir. 2018)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a software interface falls within the scope of copyright protection and whether use of a software interface in the creation of a new computer program constitutes fair use.

Petitioner used functional interfaces from Respondent’s Java application programming interface to build its Android platform and Respondent sued for patent and copyright infringement. A jury found in favor of Petitioner regarding patent infringement, and the district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement of copyrights in favor of Petitioner, reasoning that the interfaces constituted a method of operation under 17 U.S.C. §102(b) with a limited means of expression under the merger doctrine. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded the case twice. First, the Federal Circuit reasoned that multiple ways existed to express the interfaces and that such creative expression does not lose its copyrightability under Section 102(b) simply because it exists within a method of operation. Second, the Federal Circuit held Petitioner’s fair use defense invalid as a matter of law based primarily on Petitioner’s commercial use of the interfaces and the existence of market harm from Petitioner’s platform competing directly with Java. Petitioner argues to the United States Supreme Court that the Federal Circuit misread Section 102(b), which facially prohibits copyright protection for methods of operation, and misapplied the merger doctrine, which only inquiries into whether practical alternative means of expression exist in the context of computer software. Petitioner also argues that the Federal Circuit misapplied the four factors of the fair use doctrine in a manner that improperly reversed factual issues resolved by the jury.

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