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Public Policy

The case for open innovation

Software programs work better when they work together. Open software interfaces let smartphone apps and other services connect across devices and operating systems. And interoperability—the ability of different software systems to exchange information—lets people mix and match great features, and helps developers create new products that work across platforms. The result? Consumers get more choices for how they use software tools; developers and startups can challenge bigger incumbents; and businesses can move data from one platform to another without missing a beat. 

This kind of open and collaborative innovation, from scientific peer-reviewed papers to open-source software, has been key to America’s achievements in science and technology.

That’s why today we filed our opening Supreme Court brief in Oracle’s lawsuit against us. We’re asking the Court to reaffirm the importance of the software interoperability that has allowed millions of developers to write millions of applications that work on billions of devices. As Microsoft said in an earlier filing in this case: "Consumers ... expect to be able to take a photo on their Apple phone, save it onto Google’s cloud servers, and edit it on their Surface tablets." 

The Court will review whether copyright should extend to nuts-and-bolts software interfaces, and if so, whether it can be fair to use those interfaces to create new technologies, as the jury in this case found. Software interfaces are the access points that allow computer programs to connect to each other, like plugs and sockets. Imagine a world in which every time you went to a different building, you needed a different plug to fit the proprietary socket, and no one was allowed to create adapters.

This case will make a difference for everyone who touches technology—from startups to major tech platforms, software developers to product manufacturers, businesses to consumers—and we’re pleased that many leading representatives of those groups will be filing their own briefs to support our position.

Open interfaces between programs are the building blocks of many of the services and products we use today, as well as of technologies we haven’t yet imagined. An Oracle win would upend the way the technology industry has always approached the important issue of software interfaces. It would for the first time grant copyright owners a monopoly power to stymie the creation of new implementations and applications. And it would make it harder and costlier for developers and startups to create more products for people to use.

We welcome the opportunity to appear before the Supreme Court this spring to argue for software interoperability that has promoted the progress of science and useful arts—the core purpose of American copyright law.

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