The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Obama administration to weigh in on the huge copyright battle between Google and Oracle, which could develop into a major exploration of the legal boundaries of software protection.
In an order Monday, the high court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to submit a brief in the case, a common practice when the justices seek the federal government’s legal views in cases with national implications. The order does not necessarily mean the Court will decide to take the case, but could amplify its importance, depending on the Solicitor General’s opinion, in a case closely watched in Silicon Valley.
The legal battle could let the Supreme Court settle divisions in the tech industry over when federal copyright protections should apply to basic software innovations that are used in some instances without the permission of the original developer, in this instance Oracle and its popular Java program. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo have sided with Google, while Microsoft has stood by Oracle since the case began.
Google last year asked the Supreme Court to wade into its billion-dollar legal feud with Oracle, which has been unfolding in San Francisco federal court since 2010. Oracle claimed Google’s Android operating system had violated copyright protections by improperly incorporating parts of its Java technology.
A federal judge initially found after a trial that the Java components in dispute could not be covered by copyright law, but an appeals court disagreed. The U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals last year concluded that the technology could be protected; the Java components belong to a category of software tools known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, considered building blocks for creating software that interacts with other programs.
Google, in urging the Supreme Court to review the issues, warned that the appeals-court ruling would undermine “the basic building blocks of computer design and programming.”
In a separate order Monday in an unrelated case involving Google, the Supreme Court also asked for the Solicitor General’s legal views in a patent case between Google and a company called Vederi. That case, arising out of Los Angeles, stems from Vederi’s patent claims against Google for its Street View program.
An appeals court last year sided with Google, and Vederi asked the Supreme Court to hear its patent arguments.