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By Brent Kendall
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Alphabet Inc.'s Google challenging its loss to Oracle Corp. in a copyright case that could produce a multibillion-dollar verdict and have ramifications for the software industry.
The court on Friday announced its review in a brief written order. The case dates back to 2010, when Oracle alleged Google's Android smartphone-operating system infringed on copyrights related to Oracle's Java platform. Oracle acquired the Java technology when it bought Sun Microsystems Inc. that year.
An appeals court last year rejected Google's defenses and set new legal proceedings for how much the company owes Oracle in damages. Oracle has sought as much as $9 billion previously.
The litigation focuses on a key issue in the tech industry: how software developers use application-program interfaces, or APIs, prewritten packages of computer code that allow programs, websites or apps talk to one another.
Oracle alleged Google illegally copied more than 11,000 lines of Java API code to develop its Android operating system, which runs more than 2 billion mobile devices world-wide. It also accused Google of seeking to weaken important legal protections for software.
"Oracle spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars writing a blockbuster work -- a software platform," the company said in a court brief. "Google then refused Oracle's offer of a license and copied the most recognizable portions of that work into a competing platform for the express purpose of capturing Oracle's fan base."
Google argued Oracle shouldn't be able to assert copyrights on basic software commands, saying its incorporation of the software interface into its platform was a fair use of Oracle's APIs that wasn't subject to copyright liability.
An Oracle win "will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs," Google said in its petition seeking Supreme Court review.
The case went to trial twice. In the last round, jurors accepted Google's arguments that its copying of the Java code was fair use, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned that conclusion last year.
"There is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform," the appeals court said.
The Supreme Court took the case against the advice of the Justice Department, which argued there was no need for the justices to intervene. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a court brief that Oracle's code was eligible for copyright protection. Mr. Francisco said the lower court's ruling on fair use wasn't "free from doubt," but argued this particular case wasn't the best opportunity for the high court to flesh out that area of the law.
An array of tech companies and trade associations urged the high court to hear the case, including Microsoft Corp., which said the lower court's limited view on the fair use of computer code threatened innovation in software production, which "is often a highly collaborative process in which many different players participate."
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case early next year, with a decision expected before the end of the court's term in June.
Write to Brent Kendall at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 15, 2019 14:39 ET (19:39 GMT)
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