user interface copyright

user interface copyright

There have been several attempts, mostly by big US software companies, to enforce patents and copyright on user interfaces. Such legal action aims to restrict the use of certain command languages or graphical user interfaces to products from one software supplier. This is undesirable because it either forces users to buy software from the company whose interface they have learned or to learn more than one interface. An analogy is often drawn with the user interface of a car - the arrangement of pedals and steering wheel etc. If each car manufacturer was forced to use a different interface this would be very bad for car users.

Following a non-jury trial, which began in early January 1987, a federal judge ruled on 1990-06-28 that keyboard commands and on-screen images produced by Lotus Development Corporation's popular 1-2-3 spreadsheet are protected by copyright. Paperback Software International and subcontractor Stephenson Software Ltd. who lost the case, argued that the copyright applies only to the inner workings of the software. US District Judge Robert Keeton wrote that "The user interface of 1-2-3 is its most unique element and is the aspect that has made 1-2-3 so popular. That defendants went to such trouble to copy that element is a testament to its substantiality". Defence attorneys had argued that the Lotus commands represented "instructions for a machine rather than the expression of an idea".

Soon after this decision, on 1990-07-02, Lotus sued Borland International and the Santa Cruz Operation for producing spreadsheets (Quattro, Quattro Pro and SCO Professional) whose interfaces could be configured to look like 1-2-3's.
References in periodicals archive ?
Following either the Supreme Court or the principle of freedom, the fundamental question is: what value does user interface copyright offer the public--and what price would we have to pay for it?
Until 1986, user interface copyright was unheard of.
The proponents of user interface copyright claim that it would protect small companies from being wiped out by large competitors.
User interface copyright will not change this outcome.
To survive, the small company will need to offer compatibility with this standard--but, due to user interface copyright, it will not be allowed to do so.
According to Infoworld (mid January 1989), computer users in general expect user interface copyright to be harmful.
User interface copyright discriminates against freely redistributable software, such as freeware, shareware and public domain software.
At the 1989 ACM Conference on Computer-Human Interaction, Professor Samuelson of Emory School of Law presented a "mock trial" witl legal arguments for and against user interface copyright, and then asked the attendees--researchers and developers of user interfaces--to fill out a survey of their opinions on the subject.
When they were asked whether user interface copyright would harm or help the field, on a scale from 1 to 5, the average answer was 1.
The advocates of user interface copyright say that it would provide better security and income for user interface designers.
1] Lotus has given some indication of how broadly it interprets the Paperback decision by filing a new round of user interface copyright lawsuits against two of its other spreadsheet competitors.
Another reason Judge Keeton's opinion in the Lotus case may have broad implications for other user interface copyright lawsuits is because of its strong rejection of several public policy arguments made by Paperback.

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