Tech industry rallies behind Google in Supreme Court fight

Tech industry rallies behind Google in Supreme Court fight
© Getty Images

Google is garnering support from some of its toughest critics amid an upcoming Supreme Court battle with Oracle, pitting some of the tech industry's most formidable heavyweights against the U.S. government in a fight with billions of dollars and the future of the software industry on the line.

Some of Google's most formidable rivals – including Microsoft, IBM and Mozilla, which makes Firefox – filed amicus briefs on behalf of Google on Monday, arguing the high court could severely harm technological innovation if it sides with Oracle in the landmark copyright case.  

After nearly a decade of arguments in lower courts, the Supreme Court in 2019 agreed to take on the "copyright case of the decade" and decide whether Google violated federal copyright law when it used some of Oracle's programming language to build its Android operating system.

ADVERTISEMENT

The court is set to weigh whether companies can copyright an application programming interface (API), a vital tool that enables applications to communicate with one another. Most modern software relies on open APIs, and the bulk of the tech industry is arguing that allowing powerful firms to make copyright claims over computer interfaces could stifle the development of new software. 

Arguments in the case are expected to kick off by the end of March. Briefs flooded in throughout Monday, the deadline for filings in favor of Google in the Silicon Valley saga and they put Silicon Valley at odds with the U.S. solicitor general, who argued in an amicus brief last year that the Supreme Court should not take up the case, rejecting Google's core arguments. 

 

"Today, we saw a remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists, and businesses saying that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company like Oracle should be able to monopolize creativity," Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, said in a statement. 

Many of the same companies and organizations filed amicus curiae on behalf of Google before the court decided to take up the case last year. 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

In an amicus brief, a coalition of smaller companies including Mozilla, Medium, Etsy, Patreon, Wikimedia Foundation and Reddit argued that a lower court ruling in favor of Oracle "stifles innovation and competition by privileging powerful incumbents" and creates "artificial barriers to entry for new players."

And Microsoft, a fellow tech giant with multiple products that compete directly with Google's, argued that "innovation today depends on collaborative development."

"Developers rely on sharing, modifying, and enhancing previously developed code to create new products," Microsoft wrote. 

IBM, a legacy technology company that has staked out multiple positions directly at odds with Google, wrote definitively, "Computer interfaces are not copyrightable."

Despite pushback from the industry, Oracle, a software company that has never shied away from butting heads with its rivals, has continually insisted that Google broke copyright law when it used Oracle's Java programming language in Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world. 

In a statement on Monday, Oracle pushed back aggressively against Google and its supporters, accusing them of "stand[ing] for the remarkable proposition that stealing is easier than creating."

“Google makes its money free-riding on the intellectual property and content of others," Oracle said on Monday. "Google stole Java and killed interoperability to create its proprietary Android operating system. We believe the Supreme Court will see through all of Google’s self interested arguments and stand with content owners, creators, and innovators." 

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Google vs. Oracle by mid-2020.