by Dennis Crouch
Oracle v. Google (N.D. Cal. 2012)
Oracle and Google are battling over whether Google improperly relied on Java OS code when developing its Android operating system. The intellectual property rights associated with Java are now owned by Oracle, who purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009. Although there are some factual disputes, a jury recently concluded that Google did indeed copy and use portions the Java code. However, the jury could not decide whether the use was improper or whether it instead should be considered an appropriate fair use.
In addition to being protected by copyright, the same Java code is also (allegedly) protected by patents owned by Oracle. Thus, Oracle has argued that Google’s actions constitute both copyright and patent infringement.
Although pre-software, the Supreme Court has written some about the overlap between various intellectual property rights. In Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201 (1954), the Supreme Court stated refused to hold that mere patentability of a lamp structure did not preclude the creator from obtaining copyright protection. Mazer focused on potential protectability and does not address whether an entity can properly claim and/or assert both copyright and patent rights over the same subject matter as Oracle appears to be doing here. In addition, there is some suggestion from the case that the Supreme Court was talking about design patents rather than utility patents. In other contexts, the Supreme Court has been hostile to overlapping IP rights. See, most recently, Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003) and TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23 (2001).