Oracle won a major victory against Google today when the Supreme Court decided not to hear Google's appeal on the Java APIs case that has been going on between the two companies since 2010. It started when Oracle sued Google and accused it of infringing on some of its application programming interfaces, including their names (such as the name "max" for the maximum function). With today's decision, the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling (PDF), which said that Google infringed on Oracle's APIs.
The ruling could affect the entire software industry. Copyright terms go back for many decades, which means virtually all application programming interfaces that were implemented without money changing hands, or at least permission being granted, could now be vulnerable to lawsuits.
Oracle itself could be negatively impacted by today's decision if the company used software APIs without permission. Microsoft, which took Oracle's side in the lawsuit, could also have its "Project Islandwood" and "Project Astoria" stopped dead in their tracks before they even get a chance to take off. When the company repurposes iOS and Android APIs to run on Windows 10, it may be infringing on Apple's and Google's copyrights.
When the case first reached the Supreme Court, the court asked the White House to state its opinion on the issue. The White House said it should not get involved in this case and instead let Google attempt to prove that Oracle's Java APIs used in Android are covered by fair use. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled in 2014 that APIs can be copyrighted, but there was still the issue of whether the specific APIs in this case were protected by fair use. The appeals court then sent the case back to a lower court.
Therefore, although the CAFC decided that APIs are copyrighted, Google's and Oracle's case could reach the Supreme Court again. If either Google or Oracle is unhappy with the ruling from the lower court, which will decide on the fair use issue, they could continue to appeal the ruling until the Supreme Court rejects the case again, or decides to finally rule on it.
If Google wins, it won't have to pay up to $1 billion in damages to Oracle. However, it remains to be seen how much protection the fair use doctrine will offer to most open software APIs. If most open APIs aren't covered by fair use, then the biggest damage could have already been done to the software industry.
Google has already made the case that interoperability between software is important for innovation and competition. Developers can build on each others' work without having to reinvent everything from scratch again. Oracle has argued the opposite, stating that the copyrighting of APIs is what will enable more innovation in the software industry.
There's still a chance for the ruling to be overturned by the 9th Circuit Court if the case reaches that level, but it seems rather slim right now.