This really couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people.
Backstory–short hand version with some editorializing because I loathe Google. Sun Microsystems invented the Java language. Google bought Android and wanted to use Java for the system, ostensibly to encourage third party developers. Java was open source to developers but required a license for commercial applications. Google and Sun tried to negotiate a price but couldn’t come to an agreement. Google, being Google and evil is what they do, simply took the code. Sun was too small to fight the Borg and acquiesced because, in the words of Sun President Jonathan Schwartz, ” “we decided to grit our teeth and support it so anyone supporting it would see us as part of the value chain”. Sadly, this is pretty much an every day occurrence as a large company can spend you into oblivion defending your intellectual property or contract rights.
The teeth gritting stopped in 2010 when Oracle purchased Sun mostly to get access to Java. They also decided that they didn’t like being ripped off. In August 2010, Oracle sued Google for patent and copyright infringement. The jury found in favor of Oracle on all counts, but the judge ruled that the patents were never really patents anyway.
Oracle appealed. The appeals court, the Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit which hears all patent and copyright disputes, called bullsh** on the judge’s invention of Google-friendly law and sent the case back for another trial.
They went to court again with Oracle asking for $9 billion in damages but this time the jury found no infringement. Oracle appealed again. Again the Federal Circuit ruled for Oracle finding that the jury erred in understanding the law, that Google had copied, verbatim, some 11,500 lines of code, and remanded the case to assess damages. Suddenly $9 billion stopped looking like a random number.
Google appealed this decision to the Supreme Court and in April 2019 the Supreme Court asked the US Solicitor General to weigh in on the case. Today it did.
The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to stay out of a long-running copyright dispute between Google and Oracle Corp., dealing a considerable blow to Google’s efforts to avoid an $8 billion damages award.
It went beyond simply urging the Supreme Court to stay out, it affirmatively agreed with the opinion of the Federal Circuit decision.
“[Google] copied 11,500 lines of computer code verbatim, as well as the complex structure and organization inherent in that code, in order to help its competing commercial product,” the Trump administration’s brief reads. “The record demonstrates, moreover, that [Google’s] unauthorized copying harmed the market for [Oracle’s] Java platform.”
“Although there is a sense in which all computer code could be described as a method of operating a computer, the Copyright Act as a whole makes clear that computer programs can be protected by copyright, refuting any suggestion that the functional character of computer code suffices to bring it within [the Copyright Act],” the government’s brief reads.
If the Supreme Court stays out, and given the Solicitor General’s brief that seems very likely, the only question is how much money will Google have to cough up. $9 billion sounds like a nice round number.