The revival of the look-and-feel lawsuit?

by Andy Oram

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Back in the 1980s, several large firms (who later shrunk a great deal)
launched lawsuits against their competitors, on the basis that the
competitors had created products that deliberately looked and operated
like the originals. Had these lawsuits succeeded, there could be no
OpenOffice today with its cloning of Microsoft keystrokes and other
behaviors. The lawsuits helped to spawn the
League for Programming Freedom
in response. (It's other issue, software patents, are still a major

Well, the look-and-feel lawsuit seems to be back. This time it's SCO
claiming that Linux is infringing on its copyright because Linux uses
published, standardized interfaces that were invented as part of Unix.
See the commentary by BSD leader Kirk McKusick, referenced at the top.

To my non-lawyer mind, the fate of the earlier lawsuits should dictate
a quick dismissal of SCO's claims, but apparently they're hoping to
get lucky.


2003-12-31 01:08:34
don't say Microsoft keystrokes...
Had those lawsuits been won there might be no Microsoft Office and maybe no Microsoft Windows.

Lotus sued Microsoft for building a spreadsheet program that used a similar workflow to their 1-2-3 product.
The court decided that there was no reason to stop anyone from doing that because the idea was not original to Lotus.
Similar things happened to word processors and Windows-like interfaces.

2003-12-31 16:27:58
Look-and-feel law
The Apple vs Microsoft case did not end look-and-feel cases. The law has grown to make such claims stronger than when Apple made its claim. Apple lost because CEO Steve Sculley signed a licensing agreement with Microsoft that allowed them to copy the Mac look-and-feel in MS applications for the Mac. What Sculley missed is that agreement was broad enough for Gate's and company to copy the look-and-feel in anything else they wanted. Apple in recent years has been very successful in protecting its "color of trade" and other infringement claims. Ideas and concept can't be copyrighted, but original renditions or "expressions" of those ideas can and are protected.