Oracle and Google have been duking it out for years in a lawsuit that could have a big impact on the whole software industry.
Now Google has quietly made a brilliant change that indicates Google is either preparing for a worst-case scenario or simply trying to outwit Oracle.
Google will remove the parts of Android that are being disputed by Oracle, and switch to an open source alternative instead. That alternative is still controlled by Oracle, but Google is legally cleared to use it, Google told VentureBeat’s Emil Protalinski.
What they’re fighting about
The suit involves Google’s use of a part of a programming language called Java, owned by Oracle. (Oracle got it when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010.)
At issue is whether Google illegally copied part of Java called application programming interfaces, or APIs, and baked them into Android.
Google doesn’t deny that it took the Java APIs and plunked them into Android. Using APIs encourages the world’s millions of Java programmers to write apps for Android.
But Google argued that APIs are not copyright-able. APIs are bits of code that allow different applications to talk to each other, and many in the computer industry want developers to be able to freely copy them to make it easier for apps to work together.
Google mostly won the initial lawsuit, but the appellate tide started flowing in Oracle’s favour. Google asked the Supreme Court to take the case, but the Department of Justice weighed in earlier this year, siding with Oracle and advising against that.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court didn’t take the case.
That means that the appeals that favour Oracle could be the final word. It’s unclear what the court will order Google to do if Oracle is declared the final winner. (At one point, Oracle wanted a whopping $6 billion in damages, but the courts didn’t allow that huge amount to stick.) But one possibility is that Google will be forbidden from using the copyrighted APIs.
Google says it made the switch because Google was already starting to use OpenJDK alongside Oracle’s Java APIs, and it’s better for developers for Google to standardize on one.
That’s probably true. But OpenJDK has been the poor stepbrother to Java for years and didn’t have all the latest features that Oracle’s proprietary version of Java has. With Google behind OpenJDK, Google is promising to fix that and get OpenJDK up to snuff.
So this could be a brilliant legal dance by Google to latch onto a legally safe alternative. Or else, Google is preparing to settle, or expecting a court to order it to stop using Java APIs.
Or maybe it’s a little of each.