Dressing Up Software Interface Protection: The Application of Two Pesos to Look and Feel
Contemporary computer software strives to maintain a balance between the functional aspects embodied in a program's underlying algorithms and the user's end experience when operating that program. In today's highly competitive software market, a commercially viable program must not only possess a strong algorithmic engine, it must also be "user friendly." Consequently, the "look and feel" of a program is critical to the program's success, since efficient and powerful algorithms which possess unwieldy user interfaces are of limited commercial value. "Look and feel" describes what the end-user ultimately experiences when manipulating the program. It may entail, among other elements, unique screen displays, the structure and menu hierarchy of the application, or creative user interfaces for manipulating data and program flow. The last five years have witnessed an explosion in intuitive and graphical interfaces. 1 Moreover, as computers have become more powerful, 2 the calculations necessary to maintain robust graphical environments have become more affordable and practical. 3 This rapid increase in "mainstream technology" has allowed graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to penetrate the software market quickly. Furthermore, since commercial viability and profit generation are integrally linked to a program's interface, courts must strive to determine what sorts of protection to offer software publishers as an incentive to develop creative interfaces, while simultaneously encouraging healthy competition. Whether one may invoke the Copyright Act 4 to protect the non-literal aspects of computer software is far from settled law. 5 Litigants asserting that copyright law protects the "look and feel" ...