Lotus Development Corp. v. Borland Int'l, Inc.
49 F.3d 807 (1st Cir. 1995), aff'd by an equally divided court 516 U.S. 233 (1996)

  • Lotus developed software to make spreadsheets. Borland made competing software. The Borland spreadsheet used almost identical menus and commands. Lotus sued for copyright infringement.
    • Borland didn't copy any of Lotus' software, they wrote all the code themselves. They just used the same menus and had the same commands and macros.
    • Borland argued that you couldn't copyright concepts like "cut" and "paste" and "print," you could only copyright the underlying computer code. Those were just a method or process which are not copyrightable under 17 U.S.C. 102(b).
      • See Baker v. Selden (101 U.S. 99 (1879)).
  • The Trial Court found for Lotus. Borland appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that Lotus' menu command hierarchy was a copyrightable expression.
      • Borland exactly copied over 400 commands. The Court found that the particular selection and arrangement were protectable as a compilation.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Lotus' menu commands were uncopyrightable because they were a method of operation.
      • The menu commands are simply the method by which the user controls and operates the program. The Court noted that you can't copyright buttons on a VCR that say 'play' and 'record', and they analogized that to Lotus' menus.
  • In a concurrence it was argued that Lotus didn't invent the concepts of "print" and "quit" so it shouldn't maintain a monopoly over their use.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.