Competing with an existing piece of software?


Is it legal to target an existing piece of software that is on the market, rewriting it with some improvements and selling it on your own for cheaper? I wouldn't try to do anything that was unethical or anything, just write my own version completely on my own and go after their market.

This seems like your standard, "Build a better mousetrap..." situation but I'm curious if the company that makes the product that I would be trying to take market share from could cause legal trouble for me.

Software Legal

asked Aug 12 '11 at 14:23
Abe Miessler
264 points
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1 Answer


Having spent my first years as a developer doing just that, I can confirm it's viable and (as long as you really are scrupulous about how you do it) you can keep away from infringing protected intellectual property.

Personally, though, I'd expand the range of options somewhat.

A bigger, better product selling for less is a full-frontal attack on a bigger, richer competitor. You're guaranteeing a long lead time, and there's often the danger of confusing "more" with "better." But this is fertile ground for some products. For instance, is there a technology product that's easy to map out in detail, but that has poor associated tooling? If that affects customers, then a product that's comparable/compatible but has improved tools could be an attack at their point of weakness.

A smaller, simpler product solving one specific problem super well is a more common startup tactic. Your competitor's big, complex product has a number of use cases: it's the perfect tool for some, cumbersome for others, barely adequate for maybe a few. This approach has two huge benefits. First, it naturally leads you to engage with customers and their problems rather than spending all your time studying the competition. Second, it's very hard for the established player to respond to you once they notice you're stealing market share.

A comparable product being sold differently is another approach worth pursuing. Does the competitor sell direct? Then see how you could create a channel-friendly offering. Does the established player focus on enterprise sales? Then focus your product on the individual user. Fight packaged software with SAAS, desktop systems with super shiny mobile apps. Turn their pricing on its head. Find one thing to change that gives you a clear run at a better-defined slice of the market.

Good luck, with whatever applecart you decide to overturn!

answered Aug 12 '11 at 15:34
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points
  • This is an AWESOME answer. Thank you! – Abe Miessler 13 years ago

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