Jessica Karmasek Jul. 6, 2015, 9:24am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined two separate requests for review by Google -- one in a patent case involving the company’s Street View service and another lawsuit over its Android operating system.

Amid a busy last few weeks chocked full of high-profile rulings, the nation’s high court denied the search engine giant’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Vederi LLC v. Google Inc.

In its lawsuit, filed in 2010, Vederi alleges that Google’s Street View infringes four of its patents issued between 2007 and 2009. The patents relate to methods for creating synthesized images of a geographic area through which a user may then visually navigate via a computer.

Enrico Di Bernardo and Luis Goncalves, the founders of Vederi, met at Caltech while pursuing doctoral degrees.

Their Street Browser system, which let Internet visitors look at panoramas of streets and visually navigate around a neighborhood, was hosted on the website of the City of Pasadena in the early 2000s.

Google appealed to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears all U.S. patent appeals, found in favor of Vederi. The Federal Circuit, in its ruling, reversed a district court’s decision on a key claim construction issue.

Basically, the Federal Circuit ruled that the district court had interpreted Vederi’s patents too narrowly. The district court had concluded the patents cover “vertical flat” images, not the curved ones used in Street View.

Google petitioned the Federal Circuit for a rehearing en banc, but the Federal Circuit denied its request.

The U.S. Department of Justice sided with Vederi and recommended the high court reject Google’s request.

“The Solicitor General provided a thorough and well-reasoned recommendation,” said David Dillard, Vederi’s lead counsel. “We’re pleased that the Supreme Court followed the recommendation.”

Vederi was represented in the case by California intellectual property law firm Christie Parker & Hale LLP.

The Supreme Court, in its June 22 order list, did not provide an explanation for its decision.

It also did not provide an explanation for its denial of the search engine company’s request for review in Oracle America Inc. v. Google Inc.

At issue in the case was whether Oracle can claim a copyright on Java APIs and, if so, whether Google infringed the copyrights. Application Programming Interfaces are, generally speaking, specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other.

When it implemented its Android OS, Google wrote its own version of Java. In order for developers to write their own programs for the operating system, Google’s implementation used the same names and functionality as the Java APIs.

A district judge ruled in 2012 that APIs are not subject to copyright. Oracle appealed the decision to the Federal Circuit.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on behalf of a group of computer scientists, asked the appeals court to uphold the ruling.

However, in May of last year, the Federal Circuit reversed the lower court. In October, Google filed its petition with the Supreme Court.

In denying Google’s petition, the case now will return to the district court for a trial on Google’s “fair use” defense.

The EFF, a California-based international nonprofit that advocates for digital rights, argues that treating APIs as copyrightable would have a “profound negative impact” on innovation.

“Today’s decision doesn’t mean that Oracle has won the lawsuit. The case will now return to the district court for a trial on Google’s fair use defense,” the EFF wrote in a blog post. “Both the Federal Circuit opinion and a brief by the U.S. Solicitor General recognized that Google was entitled to a trial on that defense.

“However, fair use shouldn’t be the only defense to API copyrightability. Fair use is a complex and potentially expensive defense to develop and litigate. While Google has the financial resources to take that defense to trial, few start-ups have the ability to do so.

“The Federal Circuit’s decision thus could deter new companies from competing with a large, litigious competitor by using the latter’s APIs. Hopefully other courts will decline to follow the Federal Circuit’s unwise opinion, which fortunately isn’t binding on the other appeals courts.”

The EFF filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of 77 computer scientists, supporting Google’s petition.

According to the court’s June 29 order list, Justice Samuel Alito took no part in the consideration or decision of the petition. Most likely, Alito owns stock in one of the companies.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at patents@legalnewsline.com.

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