11.10.14

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When Courts in the US Attack the Right to Reuse APIs

Posted in Courtroom, Google, Oracle, Patents at 4:23 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Challenging the clueless ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the United States (very pro-software patents and anti-computer science), notable programmers write to the highest court

The SCOTUS and CAFC don’t often agree about patents. One possible (and commonly named) explanation is that the CAFC is inherently corrupt after patent maximalists got hold of positions of power, whereupon hid their conflicts of interest. CAFC, especially in its current form, should not be allowed to exist. It’s rogue.

Ruling in favour of Oracle, CAFC recently made copyrights on APIs a dangerous precedent and computer scientists are rightly fuming, seeing how a bunch of ignorant lawyers make a mockery of anyone who understands how computers work. As IDG put it:

Computer scientists have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court decision that Java APIs, the specifications that let programs communicate with each other, can be copyrighted.

In a dispute between Oracle and Google, the 77 scientists argue that the free and open use of the application programming interfaces has been both routine and essential in the computer industry since its beginning, and depended on the “sensible assumption” that APIs and other interfaces were not copyrightable.

“When Google wrote its program-interface (API) for Android, the company made a strategic decision to mimic the method call structure of Java,” writes Dennis Crouch under a misleading headline. “In the Copyright [CAFC] lawsuit,” explains Crouch, “the district court held that the API method headers were not protectable under copyright. However, the Federal Circuit reversed on appeal — finding the Java API taxonomy copyrightable as a whole. In particular, the appellate panel led by Judge O’Malley rejected the idea/expression merger doctrine since there are many other ways that functionally equivalent method-calls could have been constructed besides those found in Java. “Merger cannot bar copyright protection for any lines of declaring source code unless Sun/Oracle had only one way, or a limited number of ways, to write them.””

Anyone with a bit of a clue about programming (which makes about every patent lawyers or judge unsuitable to comment) can say that this is a ridiculous case with pretty much no basis at all. Many famous computer scientists have already written to the Court about this. As TechDirt put it:

Perhaps the most interesting was put together by the EFF, and was signed by 77 computer scientists, including many of the most well-known and most respected computer scientists around, including Hal Abelson, Brian Behlendorf, Ward Cunningham, Peter Deutsch, David Dill, Dave Farber, Ed Felten, Mitch Kapor, Alan Kay, Brian Kernighan, Guido van Rossum, Avi Rubin, Bruce Schneier and Bjarne Stroustrup among others. There are a lot more, obviously, but those were just a few of the names that stood out.

Perhaps realising that fellow OIN members and Android users can attack Android itself, Google has meanwhile signed this defensive deal with LG:

LG Electronics and Google sign a 10-year cross-licensing agreement that gives Google access to wearable device patents while encouraging LG to continue marketing Android mobile devices.

Android is by far the best selling platform right now, so no wonder it comes under fire. Since it is inherently Open Source (AOSP) and even Free software for the most part (it uses and contributes to Linux), we do care about this case a great deal and will keep on following it as a matter of priority.

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