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Intellectual Property And The Computer Industry Gu Is

1882 words - 8 pages

The computer industry’s dependency on new programs and innovative software has led to the protection of intellectual property becoming a topic of fierce debate in the field. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, this issue spurred numerous lawsuits, thereby forcing the courts to set precedent and guidelines about how to prove copyright infringement of software. Many of these cases were in regards to copyright infringement of graphic user interfaces, or GUIs; which consist of the visual cues and representations seen through a particular program or software. GUIs, in essence, determine the “look and feel” of a program. The dilemma that the computer industry faced was how similar one interface ...view middle of the document...

In order for a plaintiff to prove violation, the plaintiff must present evidence that the work was original and that either the defendant copied the work or they had access to the original work and the two works are substantially similar (TEXTBOOK). There are many cases which displayed what was becoming a typical debate in the computer industry: whether or not the essence of a program, its GUI in entirety, is protected by copyright. The courts had to look at the best way to separate ideas and expressions of ideas and how to apply substantial similarity tests to the software.
Three of the larger cases involving the copyright protection of GUIs were Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation and Hewlett-Packard Company; Xerox Corporation v. Apple Computer, Inc.; and Brown Bag Software v. Symantec Corporation. In Apple v. Microsoft and HP, Apple argued that the defendants violated copyrights that Apple held for the way in which information was controlled and presented on the Macintosh computer; in other words, there was a violation of copyrights held for Macintosh’s GUI. Apple wanted the court to focus on the “total concept and feel” of their software compared to that of the defendants and determine if there was substantial similarity (Pollack). The court ruled against Apple’s argument that a program could infringe Apple copyright by being substantially similar in essence or appearance. Apple was then forced to prove the presence of direct, feature-by-feature copying between their GUI and that of Microsoft and HP. Through examination of the individual GUI elements in question, the court decided that there was no copyright infringement because either the element was licensed to Microsoft in an earlier agreement with Apple, the element was unoriginal to Apple, or the element was too generic or the only way of expressing an idea.
Xerox Corporation v. Apple Computer, Inc. is a very similar case to that of Apple v. Microsoft and HP. Xerox sued, claiming that the GUI of Apple’s Macintosh computer unlawfully used copyrighted technology that Xerox had developed prior. In this case, no one questioned that many of the ideas behind key features of the Macintosh’s GUI (such as point-and-click, windows, and icon usage) were established at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and thus original to Xerox. What was up for debate, reiterating the main issue in discussion, was how similar one interface must be to another to constitute copyright infringement. Apple argued that by borrowing only ideas from Xerox (and not expressions of ideas), there was no copyright infringement. The court ultimately dismissed Xerox’s claims of copyright infringement.
A final case pertaining to the issue of copyright law and GUIs is Brown Bag Software v. Symantec Corporation. Very much like the two cases previously discussed, Brown Bag alleged that Symantec copied many elements of Brown Bag’s PC-Outline program, including various GUI elements. This case differs from the previous...

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