Why We Should Take Notice of The Oracle & Google Legal Dispute

You may or may not have heard of the copyright dispute that’s been running for 4 years between database company Oracle and Google.

The dispute is over Google’s use in its Android operating system of Oracle’s Java language APIs. API stands for Application Programming Interface which is essentially a gateway protocol that a programmer can use to talk to a remote system.

In this case, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems (the original owner of Java) back in 2010 and it is alleged in the long running legal battle that Google should therefore have negotiated a Java license from Oracle before using its Java APIs. In failing to do so Oracle has argued that its patents had been violated by Google. The verdict in this case was that APIs are protected by copyright in the US.

What Is The Point?

The point that this and other similar legal cases highlight is that computer software laws are becoming increasingly complex for all of us, and intellectual property rights are now something that all companies have to think seriously about, even when it concerns some of the elements of their new products.

Through owning copyright on things like APIs some technology firms can have significant power over developers by making it difficult for them to create new software.

Powerful copyright owners in the market can therefore also make it difficult for other companies to create a compatible system to their own, thus ensuring their continuing dominance and competitive advantage e.g. Facebook.

This kind of intellectual complexity combined with an essentially unregulated web design and development industry means therefore that it is now crucial to seek legal advice when working on new software based products.

Owning a Range of IP Rights to Provide Protection

One other area that has helped to highlight the importance and relevance of Intellectual Property (IP) rights in today’s business environment is how companies have protected themselves from overseas competitors using a very similar business model to their own.

The global social media market has been a good example of this where 'daily-deal’ emerged as a Brazilian clone of the Groupon site, RenRen was developed as a Chinese version of Facebook, and Alibaba was set up as a Chinese copy of eBay.

This practice of ‘tropicalisation’ (investing in companies who use an adapted version of an existing business model in a new market) has of course tested how the originators of the business models have been able to legally protect themselves and their IP. Although a basic business model itself can’t currently be protected, individual elements can e.g. a patent protecting the technology, a copyright protecting the expression of a concept, and trademarks protecting business and product names

 Intellectual Property experts therefore suggest that using a range of intellectual property rights for different elements of a business can be the best form of protection.