The ten-year monster battle between Google and Oracle over the use of Java APIs will be delayed until further notice – after the US Supreme Court announced it was suspending oral arguments over coronavirus fears.
The two sides were due to present their argument to the court on Tuesday, March 24 and there has been a flood of filings in the case in the past month. But on Monday, the Supreme Court said that “in keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court is postponing the oral arguments currently scheduled for the March session (March 23-25 and March 30-April 1).”
It’s not yet known when the case will be rescheduled - a meeting on Friday should provide more details. The court’s statement also noted that its closure is “not unprecedented,” but then gave two precedents there weren’t exactly comforting:
“The Court postponed scheduled arguments for October 1918 in response to the Spanish flu epidemic. The Court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks.” How reassuring.
The Google vs Oracle case started way back in August 2010 over Google's use of Java software interfaces in the Android phone system. Google bought Android, a Linux mobile OS startup that used Java's class library APIs, in 2005 for $50m, and launched its first phone in 2008.
Oracle bought ownership of Java when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2009 for $7.4bn and the next year sued Google for patent and copyright infringement. That argument failed, but its copyright claim was upheld in 2012; Google claims fair use on the software interface code, and a lot of software developers are very worried about the implications if Oracle wins.
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Also in 2012, a district judge in San Francisco said APIs cannot be copyrighted, but that was then overturned on appeal in 2014. Then a jury ruled in Google’s favor and said the inclusion of the core library interfaces was fair use; causing Oracle to appeal repeatedly before it was overturned in 2018. The federal court refused to rehear the case so Google appealed to the Supreme Court and that final decision-making process was due to begin next Tuesday.
Google is on the hook for more than $9bn if the Supreme Court sides with Oracle. The Chocolate Factory has that available easily, but the wider fear is Oracle will then go after smaller fry.
A range of other cases will also effectively be put on hold, including: a controversial one about gaining access to President Trump’s financial records; whether the addition of “.com” to a generic name can be registered as a trademark; time limits on rape cases in the US military; and various others.
It’s not just Supreme Court cases that are being delayed by the coronavirus however. In Delaware, an investor case against Tesla over the acquisition of SolarCity is on hold. As are a wealth of other lawsuits as the US heads into a partial lockdown. ®