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Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Paperback Software Int'l, 740 F. Supp. 37 (D. Mass. 1990) (full-text).

Factual Background[]

The user interface of the plaintiff's spreadsheet product consisted in part of a highlighted screen display resembling an "L" rotated ninety degrees clockwise with letters across the top to designate columns, and numbers down the left side to designate rows, the intersection of which formed a grid of "cells" into which numbers or formulas could be entered to accomplish spreadsheet calculations. The 1-2-3 user interface also had a "two-line moving-cursor menu" at the top of the screen, which presented the user with a menu of command terms. The menu was called up to the screen by pressing the "/" key. The top line of the two-line menu contained a series of command terms. Each command term could be selected by pressing the left or right cursor keys until that command term was highlighted, then pressing enter, or by pressing the first letter of the command term on the keyboard.

The second line of the menu displayed a "long prompt," which in many cases consisted of a textual description of the currently highlighted command term, and in other cases provided a list of the menu command subchoices that would become available if the highlighted command was chosen.

The 1-2-3 product also contained a "macro" facility, enabling the user to store a sequence of command terms as a "macro instruction" (or simply "macro") and then, with one command stroke that invokes the macro, to cause the computer to execute the stored sequence of commands. The commands of a macro could be menu choices, keyboard commands (such as function keys or cursor keys), or certain special macro commands. Because macros could contain menu choices, the exact hierarchy of the menu system constitutes "a fundamental part of the functionality of the macros."[1]

The user interface of the defendant's "clone" product was virtually identical to that of 1-2-3, except that the two-line moving-cursor menus were at the bottom of the screen, the defendant's product had numbers associated with each command term that could be used as an alternative means to invoke the command, and certain new commands not contained in 1-2-3 had been added to the menu hierarchy at various points. The defendants argued, however, that the user interface of 1-2-3 was not copyrightable because it or various elements of it were a "useful article," a blank form, and an unprotectable computer language, and for various other reasons.

Trial Court Proceedings[]

The court rejected all of these arguments, and concluded that the user interface of 1-2-3, taken as a whole, was copyrightable. The court acknowledged that utilitarian aspects of a work per se are not copyrightable, and that even "the expression of the idea is not copyrightable if the expression does no more than embody elements of the idea that are functional in the utilitarian sense."[2] However, if "the expression of an idea has elements that go beyond all functional elements of the idea itself, and beyond the obvious, and if there are numerous other ways of expressing the non-copyrightable idea, then those elements of expression, if original and substantial, are copyrightable."[3]


  1. 740 F. Supp. at 65.
  2. Id. at 58.
  3. Id. at 59.