Google and Oracle faced off before the US Supreme Court in hopes of settling a dispute over the use of Java code in the Android operating system, marking the culmination of a sprawling legal battle which has stretched on for more than a decade.

At the heart of the case is the issue of “fair use,” and whether Google’s application of Java fell under those guidelines or constituted copyright infringement. Oracle claimed the latter, seeking nearly $9 billion in damages.

J. Michael Keyes, a partner at law firm Dorsey and Whitney, told Mobile World Live the spat is “one of the most significant copyright cases” to reach the Supreme Court, adding its decision could have “potentially huge implications” on copyright protection for software and fair use.

Previous court rulings on the matter were split, with a verdict favouring Google in 2016 and another siding with Oracle in 2018. In 2019, Google petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Keyes noted several justices appeared sceptical of Google’s position in a hearing held today (7 October), questioning why Google should be permitted to use Oracle’s code and whether siding with the tech giant would effectively end copyright protection for software.

Earlier this year, Microsoft filed a brief in support of Google, while trade group USTelecom backed Oracle on the grounds a win for Google would compromise operators’ ability to guard against appropriation of key software-defined network elements.

The court is expected to rule by end-June 2021.