Interfaces on Trial: Intellectual Property and Interoperability in the Global Software Industry

Interfaces on Trial: Intellectual Property and Interoperability in the Global Software Industry

Interfaces on Trial: Intellectual Property and Interoperability in the Global Software Industry

Interfaces on Trial: Intellectual Property and Interoperability in the Global Software Industry

Synopsis

Presents the history of one of the key debates--the controversy over the protectability of interface specifications and the permissibility of software reverse engineering--in the continuing effort to develop a legal framework for intellectual property rights in the computer software industry. The analysis also provides the necessary background for understanding future debates within the global software industry, including those that will focus on the Information Superhighway. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Excerpt

During 1988, things seemed to get progressively worse for James Williams and his small Texas software company, Altai, Inc. Several years earlier, Altai had been successful enough to interest Computer Associates International, one of the world's largest independent mainframe software firms. Altai refused to be acquired by Computer Associates, but agreed to a subsequent offer by Goal, one of Computer Associates' competitors. Just after the announcement of the Goal-Altai merger in July, 1988, Computer Associates filed a copyright infringement suit against Altai, alleging that Altai had copied portions of a Computer Associates program. The filing of the suit killed the merger. Williams then confronted the programmer who had written the Altai program, his friend and employee Claude Arney. Arney, who had worked at Computer Associates before joining Altai, confessed that he had brought Computer Associates' program code with him to Altai, and that he had copied this code in certain discrete sections of the Altai program.

On advise of counsel, Williams purged the Altai program of the Computer Associates code, and had a new team of programmers, who had never seen the Computer Associates code, fill in the holes. These new sections still bore some resemblance to the Computer Associates program, however, because both programs were designed to run on IBM operating systems which imposed certain programming constraints. So long as Altai sought IBM compatibility, the programs inevitably would contain similarities. Computer Associates claimed that these similarities amounted to copyright infringement; Altai responded that computer program elements dictated by external functional constraints could not receive copyright protection.

As the case wended its way through the federal courts in New York, another case emerged in the federal courts in California. Al Miller had sought to expand his computer game company, Accolade, into the home video game market. Accolade could penetrate this lucrative market only if its games could interoperate with the consoles of the two large Japanese companies that dominated this market, Nintendo and Sega. Because of . . .

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