Legal Case Lost by Google Could Cost Billions

Tech giant Google may be required to pay more than $8 billion to Oracle, a company that owns the rights to major internet technologies such as Java, after losing a protracted court battle centered on just two patents.

After eight years of courtroom litigation, an appellate court has determined that Google improperly accessed the Java application programming interface, which falls under the intellectual property ownership of Oracle. The case dates back to 2010, when Oracle filed a lawsuit claiming that Google had infringed upon two Java patents protected under copyright law. After a few court battles, a jury decided that the Java universal programming language was not deserving of copyright protection.

In 2014, an appellate court evaluated the case and determined that Google had in fact violated copyright during its development of the Android mobile operating system, which a few years ago surpassed Windows as the most commonly installed OS in the world, and this prevalence was a significant factor in the court’s decision to impose the hefty $8 billion fine.

Google has not completely given up on this legal challenge as the case has not gone through the full appeals court route. The next step for the search engine giant would be to ask for a comprehensive appellate review to be conducted by a full panel of judges; such a case would also include oral arguments.

Should the court decision be allowed to stand in its present form, Oracle could initiate a series of lawsuits against several other tech firms that feature Java in their products; in fact, the company has already prevailed against SAP, an enterprise software giant that was found to be liable in the amount of $1.3 billion for its use of Java.

While Google could easily pay the $8 billion fine, this particular issue is going beyond financial liability; it is very important for software developers to determine what elements of Java can be classified as being open source.

Shares of Oracle rose while Google stock dropped on Wall Street upon news of the court’s decision; however, legal analysts believe that Google could take this case all the way to the Supreme Court. Google could also receive significant support from the software development and engineering community in this regard.

When Oracle acquired Java from Sun Microsystems in 2010, the promise of amplifying the open source nature of Java was made but never carried out in full. The Java Standard Edition platform is not free on its own; instead, Oracle has created an Open Java Development Kit that follows some principles of the open source doctrine.