May 03, 2012, 10:38 AM — If Oracle prevails in its contention that APIs can be copyrighted, software developers could be stifled in how they work and innovate, say observers of the ongoing Oracle-Google trial, in which Oracle claims Google improperly used Java technology in the Android mobile software platform.
But unlike the copyright questions, the patent part of the lawsuit is more a garden-variety infringement claim, which would not have much impact on developers, these observers believe. Oracle and Google are facing off in federal court in San Francisco, with Oracle alleging Android infringes Java patents and copyrights Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010. Google has countered it built a "clean room" version of Java.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Bill Snyder calls Oracle's copyright claim "dangerous," and Simon Phipps concludes, "If Oracle wins its Android suit, everyone loses." | For more on software development, subscribe to InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]
"The consequences obviously are very far-reaching" if the jury accepts Oracle's arguments about copyrights, said Scott Sellers, CEO of Azul Systems, which offers Java Virtual Machine technology. Such a decision could be precedent-setting beyond just Java, with the potential emergence of lawsuits over copyright use, he said. "You kind of have the troll effect," similar to patent trolls who file claims against patent usage, he added.
A Silicon Valley-based patent attorney who has done work for Azul concurs. "If Oracle prevails on [the copyright case], that would be problematic," attorney Lee Van Pelt said. "Developers should be able to communicate with an API that's been published," he said. Oracle's victory on this point potentially leaves developers at risk when writing code to be interoperable with a published API, he said.