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
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
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.