Competing products -- what's the law?


I had an idea for a web app about 3 years ago, but I haven't had time to build it. This year I've finally got some time and some interest/availability from a colleague, so we've decided to begin working on this idea (took forever, I know).

Sadly, in the time I slept on it, another company has built and released a product that has a very unique feature that's almost exactly the same as one I intended to build into my product. This feature is a key (you could almost say centerpiece) feature of their product, but I wasn't planning to make it as central to my product (i.e. it's not going to be the key marketing point, as it is for theirs).

Should I worry that they can sue me for some kind of copyright infringement? As I'm typing this, it seems pretty obvious that the answer is "no". But I'm not sure. Anyone know what laws I should look into about this? I'm not even sure of the correct terminology to search for on google.

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asked Oct 9 '10 at 10:36
28 points
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1 Answer


You have three major things to worry about:

  • Copyright
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
As far as copyrights, you can't copyright a user interface, (although Microsoft with their ribbons interface seems to think they can). See Lotus Development Corporation v. Borland International, Inc. You definitely can't use any trademarks that belong to the other firm.

Finally, patents can be a major problem. It can take years before a patent is granted during which you could be infringing on it.

You might want to get some legal advice on how to proceed.

answered Oct 9 '10 at 11:31
Gary E
12,510 points
  • Thanks.. a patent problem does seem to be the main issue. I wasn't planning on having a similar UI or one of their trademarks. – User4732 14 years ago
  • Now does a patent cover the basic functionality of this "centerpiece", or would you be able to slightly vary the function, give it some different terminology, and be able to skirt around the issue? – Adam 14 years ago
  • A patent can cover anything. It can cover a simple way of doing business! (See Amazon's One Click paptent- a "business method") – Gary E 14 years ago

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