Platforms and Interoperability in Oracle v. Google

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

Article Snapshot


Joseph Gratz and Mark Lemley


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


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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