Google versus Oracle case exposes differences within Obama administration

Fri May 15, 2015 1:08pm EDT
 
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By Dan Levine and Lawrence Hurley

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has been locked in internal wrangling over what position to take in high profile litigation between two American technology giants, Google and Oracle, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions. It faces an end-of-May deadline to decide whether to take sides in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that will have wide implications for the technology industry.

    The case involves how much copyright protection should extend to the Java programing language. Oracle won a federal appeals court ruling last year that allows it to copyright parts of Java, while Google argues it should be free to use Java without paying a licensing fee.

Google, which used Java to design its Android smartphone operating system, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court then asked the Obama administration in January for its opinion on whether it should take the case.

The nine justices request that U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr., the government's top lawyer before the Supreme Court, weigh in on about 20 cases a year in which the federal government has a strong interest. The justices generally give greater weight to what he or she says than other third parties that take a side in a case, an influence which has caused the solicitor general to be dubbed the "tenth justice."

    According to Google, an Oracle victory would obstruct "an enormous amount of innovation" because software developers would not be able to freely build on each others’ work. But Oracle says it is effective copyright protection that’s the key to software innovation.

    It is unclear what position the administration will ultimately take. Deliberations within the Obama administration have mirrored the larger debate in the technology world about how broadly copyright should apply to software, the sources said.

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A woman walks past a logo of Google at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2015 in Beijing, China, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon