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Shorthanded Supreme Court hears Google-Oracle fight, Ford cases

By
Don Jacobson
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the first day of the high court's new term. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the first day of the high court's new term. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 7 (UPI) -- A shorthanded U.S. Supreme Court, now in its new term, will hear cases Wednesday involving three high-profile companies -- tech giant Google, software maker Oracle and auto conglomerate Ford Motor Co.

The high court opened its new term Monday with just eight justices and a 5-3 conservative majority following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.

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Experts say two disputes on the docket Wednesday could have wide-ranging implications for how software is developed and how manufacturers are held liable for injuries connected with their products.

Arguments in all three cases -- Google vs. Oracle America, Ford Motor Co. vs. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court and Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer -- will be heard virtually.

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In the case of Google and Oracle, which has been in courts for years, the two companies are fighting over the software code used by Google to develop its Android smartphone operating system.

Oracle argues that its Java application programming interface is intellectual property protected by copyright. Google contends that the interface is not a creative work that warrants copyright protection, but rather falls into "fair use" territory as a technical, functional platform.

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Google is appealing a 2018 federal appellate court decision that found the Java interface is not subject to fair use -- a decision that's alarmed software developers as a potential roadblock to innovation in a vital industry.

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In the combined cases involving Ford, the automaker is fighting claims that it's liable for injury-related damage awards in Minnesota and Montana -- arguing that it has no direct connection to either state. Ford's argument was rejected by both the Minnesota and Montana supreme courts.

The jurisdictional fight could have a significant impact for the American public and any company that makes an argument on similar grounds, analysts note.

"Every American citizen must have the right to access the courts of his or her home state to rectify wrongs committed by corporations that mass-produce and distribute unsafe products throughout the United States," the non-profit Center for Auto Safety wrote in an amicus brief.

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A coalition of states have also warned that ruling in Ford's favor could even impact the prescription drug industry -- and allow opioid manufacturers to avoid liability by moving the burden of responsibility to "local distributors and doctors."

The high court will continue with eight justices until the Senate confirms a successor for Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett for the bench, for whom the Senate will begin the confirmation process on Monday.

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Mourning Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Female members of Congress stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is carried by a joint services military honor guard after Ginsburg lied in state at the U.S. Capitol on September 25. Pool Photo by Alex Brandon/UPI | License Photo

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