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Oracle is suing Google for using Java without proper licenses and for infringing on the programming languages copyright.

For the past two years, Google and Oracle have been circling each other with gloves on so to speak over what Oracle claims are copyright and patent violations over Oracles programming language, Java. Yesterday, the royal rumble finally began in a federal court in San Francisco.

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Specifically, Oracle is claiming that Google has stolen parts of the Java programming language, which Sun Microsystems developed and released in 1995. In 2007, the company released the majority of the Java core code under free software and open-source distribution terms. However, Sun merged with Oracle in 2009 and Oracle maintains copyrights on a portion of the core Java programming code.

Oracle claims that Google has been using part of the Java code as its own in its Android operating system (the mobile platform Google develops and owns). The lead attorney from Oracle said in his opening statements that Google used Java APIs without a license and that the company did so intentionally. There’s no question that Android heavily uses Java, but the question is whether it’s doing so legally or not.

Oracle also claims that a bigger problem facing the company is that Google has made Android (using Java) in a way that isn’t actually compliant with Java. This means that the language will start being developed in two different ways, which (argues Oracle) impedes on the whole point of Java – to be able to run anywhere as easily as possible. The language was built around the principle abbreviated to WORA – write once, run anywhere. The common term used to describe a project that has been split into different factions with different development is to say the project has been forked.

The two sides of the argument that each company is representing are whether or not a programming language is even able to be copyrighted. Oracle says yes and Google says no. Thus far in the whole pretrial and actual trial process, hundreds of claims have been filed utilizing more than 75 lawyers and a hefty bottom line in legal fees.

Google points out that by law, an “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” cannot be copyrighted, no matter if it’s an original piece of work or not. The company went on to say that a set of instructions (or a program) can be copyrighted, but the system that creates the instructions (i.e. the programming language) can’t be copyrighted.

Oracle as you can imagine, completely disagreed. The company counter argued that people are free to create their own programming languages that perform the same functions as a copyrighted programming language, meaning that the creative implementation of one programming language should be able to be protected.

A case of this magnitude is drawing a lot of attention. Most companies as large as Google and Oracle know that it’s in everyone’s best interest to simply settle out of court, before a trial. But, both of these tech giants are sticking to their guns. Oracle wants $1 billion USD in damages.

Legal analysts believe it will be difficult for Oracle to win this case, if for no other reason than because so much of the Java language is already open source. As for the fear of Google forking Java into two branches, some are saying that it’s happened to other software before so Oracle’s concern isn’t an adequate reason to convince the courts to use it as consideration against Google.

Want to read more about Google? Complaints similar to those of Google’s Android forking Java were made when the mobile OS took Linux in a direction away from the open source community. However, you can read our blog post about the happy resolution after Google took Android back to its Linux roots.