Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oracle vs Google API's in the firing line

I have bee following this case through the tech press, basically for those that haven't. Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems a while back and with it the IP to the Java programming language.

Google uses the Dalvik VM to run Java code on Android devices. According to Google the Dalvik development was done in a "clean room", this means that the code was written to make Java work without using the Java complier and Java VM. This is probably to keep the required resources low for use in a mobile device.

This latest article in ExtremeTech has boiled down the infringement to 9 lines of code that are too similar between the Java and Dalvik. Oracle in their wisdom, unhappy with this, have decided to go after API's (Application Programming Interfaces), this is a HUGE deal, almost every program ever written uses API's.

If the judge in the case grants Oracle and by extension anybody who has written a bit of code that has an API, creative works protection it would be disastrous! For the uninitiated, to draw the browser window on the screen your browser uses an API call to a system library, this is so the browser programmer doesn't have to code a graphics library to simply show a window.

If API's are given the kind of protection offered to other creative works, we could see a world where the API makers could restrict who could use their API. To use the browser example again, Microsoft or Apple could disallow Mozilla (Firefox) and Opera (Opera Browser) from using system calls to draw their browsers either entirely or without paying some licence fee. It could mean the end of free software such as  Firefox, Libre Office to name but two. Every single modern program uses API calls.

 I really hope the judge in this case understands the ramifications of this case, it would be as ubiquitous as making all the manufacturers in the world pay a fee for using a screwed thread on nuts and bolts. The screwed thread is similar to the API, it is the same weather you are holding together a watch strap or a bridge.

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