THE UNITED STATES Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has remanded the copyright infringement lawsuit between Oracle and Google back to the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
The action was brought in 2010 over copyright to the portions of code in the Android mobile operating system that are based on Java APIs owned by Oracle.
The move paves the way for Oracle to further pursue its demands that Google pay for the API code, which US District Court Judge William Alsup had previously ruled at trial was not copyright protectable.
"We conclude that a set of commands to instruct a computer to carry out desired operations may contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection," Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kathleen O'Malley wrote.
The ruling could be a game-changer for the US software industry, with programmers facing uncertainty about whether they can create inter-operable software using APIs, and possibly having to consult teams of lawyers just in case there are trolls under the bridge.
Google understandably is not pleased. A spokesperson told The INQUIRER in a statement, "We're disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options."
Oracle brought the case against Google, seeking $2.2bn for its alleged share of the world's biggest mobile operating system. Google offered to settle, but Oracle turned down the deal for $2.8m, leaving it with a $4m legal bill after the court found in Google's favour in 2012.
Although things went quiet for a while, save for a report that court papers showed Android as being less open than it claimed, Oracle's appeal continued and led to this ruling.
While Oracle CEO Larry Ellison will doubtless be delighted with a result that might net the company a large judgment, and let it join Microsoft in earning a cut of every Android device sold, the motives of a man who ditched his keynote at his own conference last year to go play with boats remain a bit mysterious. µ