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Oracle case crippled after judge rules APIs can’t be copyrighted

Champagne corks popping at Google tonight

Slide from Oracle's 2012 case against Google using Java

Google has won a major victory in its legal fight with Oracle over the use of Java in Android after the presiding judge ruled that the APIs under dispute can't be copyrighted.

"So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API," Judge Alsop wrote in a ruling released on Thursday, US time.

"It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression."

Google successfully fought off a patent infringement claim from Oracle last week, leaving the API issue the only one outstanding in its long-standing legal battle, and the ruling destroys a claim by Oracle for $6bn compensation. While this ruling doesn't apply automatically to the rest of the industry, it will set an important tone for future software litigation and development.

"The court’s decision upholds the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development. It’s a good day for collaboration and innovation," Google told The Register in a remarkably restrained statement. Oracle did not reply to a request for comment. ®

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