In December 2014, Cisco Systems, Inc. sued rival ethernet switch provider Arista Networks, Inc., for more than $300 million because it allegedly infringed Cisco’s copyrights in operating system software that manages Cisco switches. Curiously, Cisco did not claim that Arista infringed the copyright in the software’s source code, which many understand to be the subject of computer program copyright. Rather, Cisco claimed that Arista infringed portions of the user interface of the software –specifically by copying more than 500 multiword command expressions.
Copyright may extend to these “command line interfaces” by virtue of a feature of copyright law that has gained more attention in recent years. Known as the “non-literal elements” of a computer program, copyright protection can extend to not only the “literal elements” of a program’s source code or object code, but to the nontextual expression of the code such as user interfaces and the sequence, structure and organization of the program. To help the software industry grapple with this nuanced and abstract concept, BakerHostetler has created the Beyond Source Code web resource. Beyond Source Code digests the cases addressing protection of non-literal elements of computer programs. It organizes the decisions by whether they extended or rejected such protection, and includes a section identifying cases based on the type of non-literal element at issue. Continue Reading