We take a lot of things for granted when it comes to technology. We don't bat an eye at our ability to press a couple buttons on our computer and print a document, or that we can touch an icon on our phone and open applications that provide us directions, news, or pictures of what people had for dinner. For that connectedness and interactivity, we have application programming interfaces to thank. Simply put, they enable different applications to communicate with one another, creating a digital ecosystem where your iPhone works with your Twitter account, which links to your Facebook account, and both are linked to your Instagram...you get the idea. But a court ruling this year has thrown the future of open source platforms into tumult.
Earlier this year in a copyright infringement lawsuit between Oracle and Google, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Oracle. Oracle claimed Google was infringing when they copied certain functions from Java, the programming language created by Sun Microsystems (owned by Oracle) in the creation of the Android operating system. Google cited they merely copied the name of the functions as well as some other details in creating the OS, but that they wrote their own code to implement the functions. However under copyright law, the functions themselves are not protected. Google believed they were operating within their rights—a belief the court did not share.
The issue presented by this ruling is the potential loss of interoperability for countless software programs. Without a common standard to build around, programmers will have to spend untold hours developing apps incompatible with multiple systems, each with different standards. The loss in time and productivity will be devastating for any business operating in the digital realm. End users run the risk of being unable to share and connect with others using different operating systems. As such, industry experts are taking action to keep APIs free of copyright protection.
The Electronic Freedom Frontier filed an amicus brief on behalf of 77 computer scientists with the Supreme Court last week, urging them to review the Oracle ruling. In a statement, EFF Special Counsel Michael Barclay said,
"For decades, computer scientists and the courts have all understood that copyright doesn't protect APIs. We hope that the Supreme Court will review this case and reverse the Federal Circuit's misguided opinion, which up-ended decades of industry practice and threatens the basic principles upon which our technology sector was built."
Whatever your industry, it helps to know the latest developments in intellectual property law that could affect your patent, trademark, copyright, or trade secret. After all, G.I. Joe once conservatively estimated knowing as "half the battle."
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