May 8th, 2012

Android, APIs & Copyright

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Google vs OracleLike many people in technical professions, I face the ongoing challenge of explaining my industry to non-technical friends and relatives. Acronyms generally provide the biggest challenges. Explaining that SOAP isn’t a beauty product genuinely took up a significant part of my life in 2001.

Fortunately, people have gotten a lot more tech-savvy in the last decade, partly due to the proliferation and success of well-known tech companies like Apple, Google and Oracle. So when two of those companies get into a huge legal battle over an acronym (in this case, “API”) that’s little known outside technical circles, I welcome attention from mainstream society.

For the last two years, Oracle and Google have been involved in a protracted battle over the APIs for (and resulting implementation of) some Java functionality re-used in the Android mobile operating system. Yesterday marked the first real verdict in the case – in the first of three parts, Google was dealt a minor blow in regards to copying nine lines of code.

Major media outlets have oversimplified the ruling but the real test is yet to come. In a few weeks, the judge will rule on whether APIs are copyrightable. With APIs fast becoming the core means for communicating enterprise data across organizational boundaries, this could have serious implications for enterprise architects.

For example, our partner Eucalyptus Systems implements Amazon Web Services APIs to manage private Cloud infrastructure. A ruling that APIs are copyrightable would have put that usage in jeopardy, if Eucalyptus hadn’t recently announced an agreement with Amazon. Vendors reusing the VMware vCloud API would be in a similar predicament.

Layer 7’s API management products govern interfaces across a variety of message types and transport protocols, so we’re technically agnostic. But we’re intrigued to see APIs being discussed in the mainstream media and we’ll be following the case closely. For more analysis and daily coverage, Groklaw has great recaps. It’s like a geeky version of a TV court procedural.