Applying Fundamental Copyright Principles to Lotus Development Corp. v. Borland International, Inc.

10 High Technology Law Journal 177, 1995

16 Pages Posted: 15 May 2014

See all articles by Dennis S. Karjala

Dennis S. Karjala

Arizona State University College of Law

Peter S. Menell

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: May 13, 1995


This article is based on a Brief Amici Curiae filed by the authors with the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int'l, Inc. The decision is reported at 49 F.3d 807 (1st Cir. 1995). The High Technology Law Journal publishes this brief in nearly the same form as submitted to the court - this version contains a short introduction added by the authors as well as minor changes made to conform to law review style.

The argument that Borland has the right to create an independently written computer program that brings about the same results as the Lotus1-2-3 computer program is two-fold: First, the statutory definition of a program distinguishes between the program instructions and what those instructions do-the "certain results" they bring about - when they are executed by a computer. The copyright in the program does not extend to the "certain results" brought about by the program. If those "certain results" are to be copyright protected, they must independently qualify as works of authorship.Second, even if aspects of the Lotus 1-2-3 user interface qualify as works of authorship independently of the underlying computer program-for example, as graphic or audiovisual works - the traditional limits on the scope of any copyright in that interface still apply. These limits include not only the copyright doctrines of merger and scenes a faire but also the foundational doctrines of Baker v. Selden and section 102(b) of the Copyright Act. These doctrines exclude function from the scope of copyright protection.

The policies underlying that tradition are and always have been firmly grounded in the fundamental allocation of protection established by the intellectual property system as a whole.Each of the intellectual property regimes - copyright, patent, trademark,and trade secret - must be understood in the context of this larger system and cannot be interpreted in isolation. Moreover, only Congress, and not the courts, has authority to expand the scope of the intellectual property laws. Because we are addressing an asserted independent copyright in the outputs generated by the Lotus 1-2-3 program and not the program code itself, protection of functional features of the user interface are not governed by Congress' decision to protect some aspects of program code under copyright. This case centers on the interpretation of traditional copyright principles applied to visual images and systems for processing data, and absent instructions from Congress to the contrary, courts must adhere to the doctrines reflected in the Copyright Act and the case law interpreting the intellectual property statutes.

Keywords: Copyright, Network Effects, Limiting Doctrines, Idea-Expression Dichotomy, 35 USC Section 102(b)

Suggested Citation

Karjala, Dennis S. and Menell, Peter S., Applying Fundamental Copyright Principles to Lotus Development Corp. v. Borland International, Inc. (May 13, 1995). 10 High Technology Law Journal 177, 1995. Available at SSRN:

Dennis S. Karjala

Arizona State University College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
480-965-4010 (Phone)
480-965-2427 (Fax)


Peter S. Menell (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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