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Politics

Trump administration sides with Oracle in clash with Google

The filing came on the same day Oracle founder Larry Ellison was to host a fundraiser for President Trump. But the timing appeared to be coincidental.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco is backing Oracle in the company's long-running battle with Google over Java.

Photo: Getty Images North America

The Trump administration sided with Oracle in the company's long-running copyright battle against Google over its use of Java in Android, which will be heard by the Supreme Court next month and could have wide-ranging implications for the tech industry.

The solicitor general's amicus brief filing on Wednesday was no surprise. In the fall, the office, a division of the Department of Justice, urged the nation's highest court to let stand an appeals court ruling in Oracle's favor.

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"Petitioner copied lines of code verbatim from a rival software platform, inserted them into a competing, incompatible platform, and then marketed the infringing product," the solicitor general's office wrote.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco also asked to participate in oral arguments before the Supreme Court when it hears the case March 24. The government "has a substantial interest in the resolution of those questions," he wrote, and has participated in oral arguments in other copyright cases.

A Google spokesperson, Jose Castaneda, said Wednesday that the company had the support of a "remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists and businesses (who) agree that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company should be able to monopolize creativity by blocking software tools from working together."

The U.S. filings came on the same day Oracle founder and Chairman Larry Ellison was to host a fundraiser for President Trump in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs, and as the president faced scrutiny for trying to influence other court cases. But the timing appeared to be coincidental; the government faced a Wednesday filing deadline.

Michael Barclay, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who filed an amicus brief last month in support of Google, noted that in 2015, the solicitor general under President Barack Obama urged the Supreme Court to reject Google's request to hear the case, which has now been going on for almost a decade.

"I honestly doubt if Ellison and Trump are going to be discussing this," Barclay said.

The two Silicon Valley tech companies have been fighting over whether Google infringed on Oracle's copyright when it used Java APIs in the Android operating system. APIs allow computing programs to talk to each other, and other tech companies have sided with Google because they say the software industry relies on open use of APIs.

Oracle sued Google in 2010, accusing it of copying thousands of lines of Java code that eventually helped lead to Android's dominance and seeking almost $9 billion in damages. In an initial ruling in 2012, Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California concluded that APIs are not subject to copyright. But Oracle won twice on appeals, prompting Google to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. The high court decided in November that it would do so.

Stanford Law professor Mark Lemley said intellectual property law has "traditionally not mapped neatly to political divisions." But some of Oracle's supporters make no secret of their partisanship. They include some conservative groups that have filed amicus briefs in support of the company — and against Google, which they accuse of liberal bias — in the past few days.

The Internet Accountability Project said in its brief that its mission is to "call attention to the economic and political harms caused by the activities of America's dominant information technology companies, including Google." The IAP was launched in the fall by former Republican legislative aides to oppose big tech companies and "hold them accountable for their bad acts."

Another group that filed a brief in support of Oracle is the Conservative American Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Also submitting briefs in support of Oracle were, among others, journalism professors, news publications, book publishers, the Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America. They expressed concern about protecting creative work and intellectual property.

In a statement, Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley said, "The amicus briefs make clear that to avoid significant consequences well beyond the software industry, Google's self-serving arguments and attempts to rewrite long-settled law must be rejected."

Those who submitted briefs in favor of Google include Microsoft, IBM, Mozilla, Red Hat, some tech trade groups, IP scholars and programmers. Vint Cerf, known as the father of the internet and now a chief evangelist for Google, was among dozens of computing professionals and pioneers who filed a joint brief.

"As computer scientists, amici have relied on reimplementing interfaces to create fundamental software," they wrote in their brief. Finding in favor of Oracle "threaten[s] to upend decades of settled expectations across the computer industry and chill continued innovation in the field."

The Supreme Court, which Lemley said has "given great weight to the views of the solicitor general in the past," is expected to make a decision by June.

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