The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit—applying Ninth Circuit law—has found that copyright protects the expression of a process or method. The hard and fast rule set down in Lotus, i.e., that elements which perform a function can never be copyrightable, is at odds with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's endorsement of the abstraction-filtration-comparison analysis. Although an element of a work may be characterized as a method of operation, that element may nevertheless contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection.
Oracle filed suit against Google Inc. ("Google") in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Google's Android mobile operating system infringed Oracle's patents and copyrights. The jury found no patent infringement, however, it found that Google infringed Oracle's copyrights in the 37 Java packages and a specific computer routine called "rangeCheck," but returned a non-infringement verdict as to eight decompiled security files. The jury deadlocked on Google's fair use defense. After the jury verdict, the district court denied Oracle's motion for judgment as a matter of law ("JMOL") regarding fair use as well as Google's motion for JMOL with respect to the rangeCheck files. Oracle also moved for JMOL of infringement with respect to the eight decompiled security files. In granting that motion, the court found that Google admitted to copying the eight files, and no reasonable jury could find that the copying was de minimis. Shortly thereafter, the district court issued its decision on copyrightability, finding that the replicated elements of the 37 API packages—including the declaring ode and the structure, sequence, and organization—were not subject to copyright protection. Accordingly, the district court entered final judgment in favor of Google on Oracle's copyright infringement claims, except with respect to the rangeCheck code and the eight decompiled files. Oracle appeals from the portion of the final judgment entered against it, and Google cross-appeals from the portion of that same judgment entered in favor of Oracle as to the rangeCheck code and eight decompiled files.
Did the district court err in its decision to enter final judgment in favor of Google on Oracle’s copyright infringement claims?
The Court held that Northern District of California erred when it found that Google did not infringe copyrights Oracle held on a computer programming platform, when the former copied the declaring code and the overall structure, sequence, and organization ("SSO") of 37 packages that were part of the platform to develop its own software. According to the Court, the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright protection. The Supreme Court has made clear that neither the Copyright Statute nor any other says that because a thing is patentable it may not be copyrighted.