The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Google on Monday, finding that it did not violate federal copyright laws when it used parts of Java programming code, created by a company acquired by Oracle, to develop its Android platform.
The ruling is a major victory for Google, which had been embroiled for years in litigation with Oracle over the rights to Java code.
Of the nine Supreme Court justices, only eight evaluated the case, as Amy Coney Barrett was not on the court at the time of oral arguments. Specifically, six justices voted in favor of Google, while two voted against.
The case dates back to 2010, when Oracle sued Google, which belongs to the Alphabet conglomerate, for some $9 billion for developing its Android software using parts of the Java language, created by an Oracle-acquired firm, Sun Microsystems.
Since then, three lawsuits have been held, the last one in 2018, when the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Google “unfairly” used Java programming code when developing its Android platform and thus ruled in favor of Oracle.
The Mountain View, California-based company decided to appeal the decision and the dispute finally reached the Supreme Court, which held a hearing to consider the case in October last year.
Throughout this time, Oracle has argued that Google copied application programming interfaces (APIs) from its Java code, some 11,500 lines, to develop its Android operating system, which is used by most cell phones in the world, and therefore believes it should have paid a license or written its language.
Google, for its part, has assured that it acted lawfully and, in the past, its then executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, who left the post in 2017, said he believed that his company could freely use Java, because he personally unveiled the programming language in 1995 when he was a senior executive at Sun Microsystems.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling could have consequences for startup software development, as more lawsuits could come for unauthorized uses of APIs, something that in this case Google argues it saw as “fair” and did not believe required permission from Oracle.