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Judge Stops Sale of Quattro Pro Spreadsheet : Computers: Borland International wanted the ruling to allow for a quick appeal. The judge earlier said their software infringed on Lotus 1-2-3.

August 20, 1993|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Borland International Inc., in a case closely watched by the software industry, was ordered Thursday to stop selling spreadsheet software that a federal judge in Boston ruled infringes on Lotus Development Corp.'s 1-2-3 program.

Oddly, Borland itself asked the judge to enjoin sales of its Quattro Pro spreadsheet. 'We're extremely pleased," said Borland spokesman Dick O'Donnell. "It allows us to take this case immediately to the Court of Appeals."

Still, the loss of several weeks' sales of its flagship product will not help the once-soaring company's flagging fortunes. Quattro Pro accounted for about 25% of last year's $464 million in sales.

But the case goes beyond the fate of Borland. The 3-year-old Lotus-Borland copyright battle matters deeply to the software industry and even some personal computer user groups, which fear the ruling of copyright infringement could curtail the widespread industry practice of making products easier to use by having them act more like one another.

On Aug. 12, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Keeton ruled that a feature of Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet that makes it compatible with Lotus 1-2-3 infringes on Lotus' copyrights. Lotus 1-2-3 is the world's top-selling spreadsheet.

Borland contends it will prevail on appeal. Officials at Borland, based in Scotts Valley, Calif., say the judge's earlier ruling is inconsistent with the rulings of other federal courts and scholars of copyright law.

O'Donnell said Keeton's injunction will have little effect on Borland because the company is about to start shipping Quattro Pro "minus the infringing feature." Those versions should be in stores within a matter of weeks, he said.

The injunction requires Borland to stop selling current versions of the software and to notify vendors within the next week that the software is illegal. Personal computer users who already own the Borland spreadsheet are not affected.

Fearing an enormous ripple effect, PC user groups Thursday filed a so-called friend-of-the-court brief supporting Borland. Earlier, such briefs were filed by some leading copyright-law professors; the Software Entrepreneurs Forum, which represents 700 independent developers, and the Justice Department on behalf of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Keeton's ruling "flies in the face of what makes computers and computer software at least halfway easy to use--that you don't have to relearn everything from scratch," said Tony Barcellos, a college math teacher who is president of the Sacramento PC Users Group, an 11-year-old organization.

Heeding the requests of users, software makers have increasingly adopted a standard look and feel for their products, and it is not uncommon for a program to incorporate a leading competitor's commands.

Keeton scheduled a trial on the damages portion of the case for Oct. 3, 1994, but told both sides that he expects the appeals court to decide the matter before then. Lotus has said it believes that damages could exceed $100 million.

News of the injunction emerged after the markets closed. Shares of Lotus, based in Cambridge, Mass., closed down 87.5 cents at $35.375 in NASDAQ trading. Borland's stock, also on the NASDAQ, lost 50 cents a share, closing at $17.25.

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