Experts Divided on Oracle's Chances of Appeal in Android Copyright Ruling

Chris Kanaracus June 2, 2012
Experts Divided on Oracle's Chances of Appeal in Android Copyright Ruling
Judge William Alsup's 'thorough, well-written' ruling presents a high hurdle

Oracle has pledged to appeal a judge's ruling that Java APIs cited in its lawsuit against Google weren't subject to copyright protection, but legal scholars and attorneys not associated with the case expressed mixed opinions whether that would be successful.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup's 41-page ruling determined that the Java APIs (application programming interfaces) in the case were functional and utilitarian components of Java, and therefore not protected. Oracle's lawsuit claimed that Google's Android software infringed patents and copyrights for Java that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in early 2010.

Alsup was careful to say that this ruling wasn't meant to apply to all Java APIs, just the ones in the case, but his decision nonetheless was applauded by some observers, who felt that if he ruled in Oracle's favor, it would set a bad precedent and inhibit new innovations in programming.

Now Oracle will have some time to regroup and mull over strategies for its appeal, said Edward Naughton, an intellectual-property lawyer with the Boston firm Brown Rudnick, in an interview Friday.

"The appeal process is an interesting one, because they get more time and are able to focus their arguments a little bit more on what the law should be, rather than what it currently is," Naughton said.

Appeals courts consider prior cases when making decisions, as Alsup did in his ruling, Naughton said. However, "they have a little bit more freedom to make rulings that embody policy decisions," he added.

To this end, "Oracle can talk about what the law ought to be, what principles should be applied to these facts," Naughton said. "But they will also have to take on why Alsup's description of the Java language may be a little bit of an oversimplification. They need to challenge the premise of Judge Alsup's analysis and show the situation is more complicated than how he described it."

But Alsup brought a unique quality to the case, revealing recently that he has a background in computer programming, which helped him understand the issues in the case. When Oracle goes to an appeals court, the person sitting on the bench may not have the same depth of knowledge as Alsup, making its attorneys' jobs potentially even more difficult.

"Alsup is more technical than your average judge," Naughton said.