IP in Software: When is an API Protectable?

ImageBy Lydia Ansari

On May 9th, the Federal Circuit ruled in Oracle v. Google that some APIs, or software application programming interfaces, are subject to copyright. Unless Google can successfully assert a fair use defense on remand, Google will have to pay Oracle for its use of the Java API in Android. The ruling draws disapproval from IP advocates and software developers alike, who predict it will have a stifling impact on innovation.

If the ruling stands, software companies will be able to copyright some aspects of their APIs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns that “allowing a party to assert control over APIs means that a party can determine who can make compatible and interoperable software, an idea that is anathema to those who create the software.” Many developers agree that making APIs subject to copyright law would significantly limit their ability to build compatible programs and build on top of APIs. Continue reading