Android and Resulting Lawsuits and Precedents

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Android is a mobile operating system originally created by Android, Inc. and currently developed by Google. The code for the OS is released under the Apache Software License Version 2.0 and GPLv2 open source licenses. Due to its open source nature, it has been the subject of patent litigation stemming from competition between smartphone software and hardware companies. Because of the rapidly evolving landscape of the mobile market, many currently proceeding lawsuits involving Android have the potential to be landmark cases for copyright and patent legislation involving software and hardware. [1]

Android, Inc. was founded in October 2003 by Andy Rubin [2] and several other prominent figures in the computer industry with the goal of creating an operating system to rival Windows Mobile and Symbian. Google acquired Android Inc. in 2005 after the company ran out of money. Over the next two years Android would shift its goals to rival touchscreen platforms like iOS, developing a mobile platform built on the Linux kernel. Since then, both Google and Android have been the subject of many lawsuits, with topics ranging from the technologies used in building the OS to the operating practices of Google services.

Commingled Data and Privacy Abuse

In 2014, a federal judge rejected Google's appeal to dismiss a US privacy lawsuit that claimed the company commingled its users' data across its products and sold the resultant to advertisers. The lawsuit was created after Google's changed its privacy policy on March 1, 2012, on behalf of a class of users who acquired a Google account prior to February 2012 and maintained it for at least a month past that date.[3] The individual privacy policies for each of its services were removed and instead replaced by a single unified policy, which allowed the company to merge data that it collected from many of its platforms, including Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. The potential abuse of user data collected by Google Maps and other heavily phone-integrated Google services was a large factor in the decision to raise the lawsuit. Another complaint was that there was no way to opt-out, which they claimed was a move purposefully made for Google to compete with Facebook and other social media companies over ad revenue gained from user data.

The ruling on this case, which is currently ongoing, will set a standard for determining unfair competition in relation to smartphones, which is of concern to other smartphone OS makers like Apple and Microsoft that also bundle their proprietary software packages into the operating systems. From a consumer standpoint, Android is the world's most accessible mobile platform and Google's service platform is too useful of an option to avoid. This brings the terms of use to the spotlight, questioning the legality of changing a ToS statement and using the investment of its users as a way to pressure them into accepting those changes.

Google vs Oracle - Copyrightability of Public APIs

The initial case, Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc., was overturned in 2014,[4] but the appeal went through.[5] It is currently being proposed to the Supreme Court. This case can have severe and lasting impacts on many open-source efforts and is being followed closely by a large part of the mobile software and hardware industry. Many high profile figures in the technology industry, including Larry Ellison (Founder and CEO of Oracle), Eric Schmidt (Google's Chairman), Larry Page (Google's co-founder and CEO), and James Gosling (former CTO at Sun Microsystems, dubbed the "Father of Java") have been called to the witness stand.[6]

Google wanted Ellison to "testify about negotiations and communications relating to Oracle's acquisition of Sun" among other things. Meanwhile, Oracle volunteered his testimony "regarding Oracle's reasons for acquiring Sun Microsystems; the importance of Java to Oracle's business..." and "the harm caused by Android". Oracle called Larry Page and Eric Schmidt to testify regarding "Google's Java-related discussions with Sun and Oracle" and "Google's awareness of Sun's Java intellectual property rights and the need for Google to obtain a Java license for Android." Oracle also intended for the two to testify on their knowledge of Java technology and Sun's Java licensing practices from his tenure at Sun, as well as whether Google had other options (i.e. the idea is that Google didn't have viable alternatives to Java).

2012 Ruling

The case was originally assigned to Judge William Alsup in 2012. In order to understand the nature of the case, Alsup taught himself the Java programming language.[7] He split the case into three phases: copyright, patent, and damages.

The copyright phase of the trial began on April 16, 2012 and dealt with infringement claims on re-implementations of Java API functions by Google, such as the rangeCheck function (9 lines of code), parts of a test suite, and pieces of documentation.[8] The ruling on this phase was that although the API had been infringed, Google had an acceptable fair use defense for the claim. [8]

The patent phase began on May 7, 2012 and covered two of Oracle's patents, one which dealt with a system to perform static initialization, and another which involved systems to resolve data references in generated code.[9] The jury ruled that Google did not infringe on any patents, citing the differences in methodology of implementation for the decision.[9] Because of these rulings, the damages phase was skipped ($0 of statutory damages).

2014 Overruling

After the trial, Oracle appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The hearing was on December 4, 2013, and a decision was released reversing William Alsup's ruling. The court held that the "structure, sequence, and organization" of an API was copyrightable.[10] The implications of this decision are significant, and can have a severe negative impact to the growth of open source and cross platform projects, among other things. In an amicus brief by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the decision was disparaged as a blow to to the growth of the technology industry: "...The freedom to reimplement and extend existing APIs has been the key to competition and progress in both hardware and software development."[11] Google has currently submitted an appeal to the United States supreme court for further ruling on this matter.

Anti-competition

On May 1, 2014, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Google by the consumer rights law firm Hagens Berman. Hagens Berman announced it as a "nationwide antitrust class-action lawsuit" which claimed that Google illegally monopolized and "financially and creatively stagnated the American market of internet and mobile search."[12]

The primary claim was that Google's monopoly of the search market was made possible chiefly through its purchase and subsequent control of the Android operating system. According to Hagens Berman, this allowed Google to maintain its monopoly by pre-loading its Google Play software suite onto devices through several secretive "Mobile Application Distribution Agreements" (MADAs) with manufacturers.

In Febrary 2015, US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the Northern District of California threw out the lawsuit, claiming that there was not enough evidence to back the allegation of antitrust injury. Hagens Berman has since been given the opportunity to amend the arguments for another hearing.[13]

This case has the potential to redefine antitrust laws regarding software accessibility. To make a successful case, Hagens Berman must present evidence to support the idea that pre-installed apps lead to automatic adoption (which in turn stifles competition). This case may seem somewhat similar to the case in 2001 against Microsoft[14] over its practice of bundling Internet Explorer into its operating system, but there two key differences which make this case fall in favor of Google. First, Microsoft required Internet Explorer to be bundled into its operating system. Although Google may be found guilty if the allegations of MADAs are true, the bundling of Google Play Services and its apps is not actually a requirement for Android distribution, simply a very enticing one. This is shown by the fact that many Chinese OEMs release dozens of phones a year without Google's apps installed.[15][16] The ease of access of alternative apps on the app store is the other concept, although this is one that must be proven by Google. The general idea is that while the market was immature back in 1997 when Microsoft was bundling IE into Windows, the app store provides near-immediate access to a plethora of alternative applications to Google's services.

CyanogenMod: Android Ripoff or OS in its own right?

CyanogenMod is a modification of the Android operating system.[17] Mainly OnePlus vs. Micromax and Cyanogen - After signing a 2 year contract with Chinese phone manufacturer OnePlus for the use and support of Cyanogen OS in their flagship phone, Cyanogen Inc. then made a deal with Indian manufacturer Micromax for exclusive rights to Cyanogen OS in India. OnePlus's sales were banned in the Indian market after the deal was closed. At this time both OnePlus and Cyanogen Inc. are keeping their legal proceedings private.

References

  1. Google just bought itself patent protection. CNet News, 2011.
  2. I, Robot: The Man Behind the Google Phone. The NY Times, 2007.
  3. Google must face U.S. privacy lawsuit over commingled user data. Reuters, 2014.
  4. https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/California_Northern_District_Court/3--10-cv-03561/Oracle_America_Inc._v._Google_Inc./1190/
  5. http://www.cnet.com/news/court-sides-with-oracle-over-android-in-java-patent-appeal/
  6. Ellison, Schmidt, Page, McNealy, Gosling and other luminaries to take witness stand in Oracle-Google trial. Foss Patents, 2011.
  7. William Haskell Alsup - Wikipedia
  8. 8.0 8.1 Order Re Copyrightability of Certain Replicated Elements of the Java Application Programming Interface US District Court for Northern California, 2012.
  9. 9.0 9.1 http://www.groklaw.net/pdf3/OraGoogle-1190.pdf
  10. ORACLE AMERICA, INC. , Plaintiff – Appellant. 2014.
  11. Dangerous Decision in Oracle v. Google: Federal Circuit Reverses Sensible Lower Court Ruling on APIs. 2014.
  12. Hagens Berman Announces Nationwide Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit against Google. 2014.
  13. Judge chucks out two class-action lawsuits against Google. 2014.
  14. Microsoft IE Bundling Case Study
  15. ColorOS International Download Center/
  16. China Blocks Access to Google's Mail Service through Apps. 2014.
  17. http://www.cyanogenmod.org/