Law School Case Brief
Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int'l - 49 F.3d 807 (1st Cir. 1995)
To show actionable copying a plaintiff must first prove that the alleged infringer copied plaintiff's copyrighted work as a factual matter; to do this, he or she may either present direct evidence of factual copying or, if that is unavailable, evidence that the alleged infringer had access to the copyrighted work and that the offending and copyrighted works are so similar that the court may infer that there was factual copying (i.e., probative similarity). The plaintiff must then prove that the copying of copyrighted material was so extensive that it rendered the offending and copyrighted works substantially similar.
Plaintiff Lotus Development Corporation ("Lotus") created "Lotus 1-2-3," a spreadsheet program that enabled users to perform accounting functions electronically on a computer. Defendant Borland International, Inc. ("Borland") also created computer spreadsheet software and competed directly with Lotus. Lotus filed a copyright action in federal district court against Borland, alleging that Borland copied the Lotus 1-2-3 menu command hierarchy into Borland's competing Quattro and Quattro Pro computer spreadsheet programs.The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted Borland's motion and denied Lotus' motion. The district court found that Borland included in its Quattro and Quattro Pro version 1.0 programs a virtually identical copy of the entire 1-2-3 menu tree, that the Lotus menu command hierarchy was copyrightable expression, and that Borland had infringed Lotus's copyright in Lotus 1-2-3. Borland appealed, arguing that it lawfully copied the unprotectable menus of Lotus 1-2-3 in that the Lotus menu command hierarchy was not copyrightable because it was a system, method of operation, process, or procedure foreclosed from protection.
Was the Lotus 1-2-3 menu command hierarchy copyrightable subject matter?
The appellate court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that Lotus' menu command hierarchy was uncopyrightable subject matter because it was a method of operation. Methods of operation were not entitled to copyright protection. Therefore, Lotus' menu command hierarchy was foreclosed from copyright protection.
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