Platforms and Interoperability in Oracle v. Google

Intellectual Property, Copyright and Trademark, Competition Policy and Antitrust and Interoperability

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Joseph Gratz and Mark Lemley

Source

Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 31, pp. 603-614 (2018)

Summary

Software made by one firm often needs to work with software made by other firms. In Oracle v. Google, a federal court will consider whether copyright law will change to hinder software interoperability.

Policy Relevance

Copyright law should support competition. Copyright law should not overprotect software.

Main Points

  • If one firm could use its copyright in application program interfaces (APIs) to stop others from writing software using the same APIs, the firm could gain a patent-like monopoly over interoperable software.
     
  • APIs can be copyrighted, but other firms may make "fair use" of APIs to make software products work together.
     
  • The Java programming language was created by Sun Microsystems to support interoperability; Oracle then purchased Sun, and is attempting to stop other firms from writing programs that interoperate with Java.
     
  • Google copied aspects of Java necessary to make Java API code usable by programs running on the Android phone system; Java was designed for desktop computers and is unsuitable for use on phones.
     
  • From the start, copyright law's support of interoperability fostered an open, competitive software and computer industry; today, interoperability is critical to the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), which connects a wide array of devices.
     
  • Copyright law allows developers to write a single program that will work on multiple platforms; this, in turn, encourages further creative works.

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