November 14, 2012
The End of Magic: Patent/Copyright Warfare and APIs

Lets suppose that you and I are at a restaurant together in
the North End. The waiter comes over to us with a menu, and it is up to us to
decide what we each want to eat. Now the kitchen itself is full of many
different supplies and ingredients that could be combined in millions of
different ways, but thankfully we have that menu. The menu serves as a sort
of  contract between ourselves and the kitchen staff, and the waiter
serves as the intermediary. We make a selection through the menu, and the waiter
communicates this choice to the kitchen staff. The Chef then uses the
ingredients in the kitchen to assemble our request to our specifications and
delivers them to us back through the Waiter.

is a term in computer science called an API that sort of does the same thing
the waiter does- Takes a limited number of queries, delivers that query to a
server, and replies with a limited number of responses. Although this happens
under the hood, you are already very familiar with this process but likely
don’t notice it (Which is kind of the point). You open your Maps App on your
Android or iPhone and press the GPS button... A moment later your position
appears on the map as a blue dot.  APIs are the magic that allows apps and
many other kinds of software communicate with each other, and big companies are
trying to steal that magic from us. 

this year,in a long running case between Oracle and Google, a judge rightly
ruled that APIs cannot be copyrighted. Oracle claimed that parts of Google's
Android code were too similar to code used in Oracles Java programming
language. It is my opinion that this stems from outright jealousy and the
desire for money, with big companies often engaging in litigation with each
other over patents. For example, Google has to pay Apple one dollar for every
Android device sold, thanks to certain patents Apple holds. Patent and
copyright warfare like this is bad for innovation, bad for the economy, and bad
for small tech buisnesses.

has since appealed that original ruling and a 3 panel judge panel will soon
decide if the original ruling will stand. Please contact your local legislators
and tell them that to end copyright and patent warfare, and click here to tweet and show your
support to the Electronic Freedom Foundation and help stop the copyrighting of
APIs, interoperability, and magic. 

Jesse Waites is an animal lover, writer, technology
activist, Founder and CEO of, and is on the MIT Enterprise Forum
Innovation Series Planning Committee.  You can usually find him walking
his dog Finn in and around Boston or reading physical novels made out of actual
paper in locally owned coffeeshops.  He can be reached @JesseWaites on Twitter.