While this is a landmark victory for Google, technology titans have no shortage of legal issues to contend with.
A decade-long battle between two global tech majors – Google and Oracle – ended in the US Supreme Court that sided with Google in the dispute with Oracle over Google’s use of Java code in Android. The top court decided by a 6-2 vote that Google’s copying of a small fraction of the Java API did not infringe on Oracle copyrights but represented fair use.
Oracle had alleged a copyright infringement on about 12,000 lines of code Google copied from the Java API developed by Sun Microsystems. Since Oracle acquired the latter in 2010, it sued Google over its use of the code. In the past two instances, Oracle had won the case on the grounds that the code in question was copyrightable. On the other hand, Google argued that its use of the code was meant for fair use and therefore not subject to copyright liability.
After a long-delayed hearing, the US Supreme Court now ruled in favor of Google, stating that reimplementing an API by copying its declarations is legally fair use under US copyright law. It also ruled that Google could legally use Oracle’s Java API code when building Android.
While this is a landmark victory not only for Google, but for the entire open web, as it would eventually define the interoperability and openness of developer codes, legal battle between the tech giants is not uncommon. From intellectual property (IP) issues to regulatory concerns, technology titans have no shortage of legal issues to contend with. We have listed some of the major legal battles in the tech industry.
Google vs. Uber
Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber in 2017. Google alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer who earlier headed its self-driving car project, downloaded around 14,000 files from his company-issued computer containing trade secrets and moved on to join Uber Technologies. The company also alleged that Levandowski tried to remove traces of those actions by reformatting his laptop. Incidentally, he spearheaded the company’s own self-driving car program. In 2020, Google won $179 million against Levandowski, after the judge ordered Levandowski to pay $179 million to Google, the founder of autonomous vehicle startup Otto which Uber acquired later. Levandowski personally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, stating that the presumptive $179 million debt quite exceeds his assets.
European Commission vs. Google
The European Union or EU and Google have been locked in battle since 2010 when the commission first looked into accusations that the search engine was squeezing rivals from results in order to promote ads and Google Shopping, a price comparison service. For several years Brussels and the US giant sought a negotiated settlement, but the EU abruptly reversed course in 2014 after the intervention of member states. In June 2017, the European Commission fined Google 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) the following year after finding the company violated antitrust rules by allegedly abusing its dominance in search to advantage its own shopping comparison product over competitors.
Samsung vs. Apple
The world’s top smartphone rivals have been in court over patents since 2011, when Apple filed a lawsuit alleging that Samsung’s smartphones and tablets copied its patented iPhone design. Samsung was found liable in a 2012 trial, but a disagreement over the amount to be paid led to a retrial over damages. In 2017, on remand from the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit continues to interpret the intricacies of Apple’s design patent as it considers whether Samsung did, in fact, infringe on the patent. Apple ultimately won this legal battle, with a reward of $399 million in damages.
Apple vs. Nokia
Apple and Nokia first faced each other in the courtroom over a patent issue in 2011, and in 2016, the two companies again found themselves at legal odds. Apple initiated the legal battle by filing an antitrust lawsuit against the patent assertion entities (PAEs) that act on behalf of Nokia, claiming that these PAEs create an “anticompetitive” playing field for tech companies like Apple. In response, the Finnish company filed a lawsuit against Apple, citing overdue payments for patent licensing. However, Apple and Nokia settled their case without taking it to court. As Apple reports, the two tech companies agreed to an extended patent license that resolved some immediate concerns.
Apple vs. Qualcomm
In 2017, Apple initiated a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm in the US alleging the latter overcharged for semiconductors and failed to pay $1 billion in rebates. Apple also filed lawsuits in China and the UK. An FTC report reached similar conclusions. Qualcomm filed counter-claims alleging Apple made false and misleading statements to induce regulators to sue the company and also filed suit against Apple in China for alleged patent infringement in October 2017. Apple then counter-sued, alleging Qualcomm was using patented Apple technology in its Android components. In April 2019, Apple and Qualcomm reached an agreement to cease all litigation and sign a six-year licensing agreement. The settlement included a one-time payment from Apple of about $4.5 to $4.7 billion.
The list continues…
Big technology companies lose billions every year fighting lawsuits. 2020 was even more dramatic as we saw a flurry of lawsuits alleging anti-competitive behavior have been launched against companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
In the above cases however, what is clear is that lawmakers need to invest time and resources to ensure that laws and regulations fit the purpose of the ever increasing level of innovation in the technology and digital space, as the recent win of Google against Oracle reaffirms that the ruling saves Google potentially billions of dollars in damages, and will be a boon for many programmers, computer scientists, and industry groups by encouraging innovation in software development for the benefit of the customers.