Google Abandons Oracle's Java APIs for Open Source in Future Android Releases

Google announced that the next version of Android (i.e. Android N) will use OpenJDK, Oracle's open source Java Development Kit, as opposed to the Java APIs that have been the focal point of an intellectual property dispute between the two tech giants for the past five years. Google declined to answer whether the ongoing lawsuit prompted the switch, but the wide audience following the case can't help but speculate as such. Google colored the transition as a better fit for the open-source nature of Android:

"As an open-source platform, Android is built upon the collaboration of the open-source community," Google told VentureBeat. "In our upcoming release of Android, we plan to move Android's Java language libraries to an OpenJDK-based approach, creating a common code base for developers to build apps and services."

Oracle offers two Java API libraries that support app development within Java: a proprietary Oracle JDK and an open-source version (OpenJDK). While Google has utilized OpenJDK in some areas of Android development, Android largely used the proprietary Oracle JDK for Android. The proprietary version sits at the heart of the copyright dispute between Google and Oracle and the outcome of the case could set precedent that largely determines the amount of control tech juggernauts hold over developers during app and service development.

The copyright dispute between the two continues. While Google initially won at the trial level under the theory that APIs cannot be copyrighted, a Federal Circuit court reversed the trial court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court declined an appeal from the Federal Circuit court; thus, the case is headed back to the lower court to determine whether Google can rely on a "fair use" argument for the use of Oracle's copyrights.

For those tempted to conclude that Google's switch to OpenJDK lessens the impact of the "fair use" determination yet to be made by the lower court, please don't rush to such a conclusion. Google's move to OpenJDK is most likely a plan B decision. Remember, Oracle filed its suit against Google over five years ago and Google continued to aggressively defend its case while continuing development with Oracle's proprietary JDK until the next Android release. Further, compared to most developers, Google maintains unlimited resources to throw at product development. While a massive code switch may seem simple for Google, smaller development teams may have a more difficult time changing paths. For now, APIs are Copyrightable, which gives API owners powerful leverage over their developer communities. We will wait and see if the court buys Google's "fair use" argument which would loosen the grip API creators maintain over developer communities. 

Eric Carter Eric the founder of Dartsand and Corporate Counsel for a specialty technology distributor. He is a frequent contributor to technology media outlets and also serves as primary legal counsel for multiple startups in the Real Estate, Virtual Assistant, and Software Development Industries. Follow me on Google+