Copyright Blog, December 8, 2023 — A Case About Blood Alcohol Testing Kiosks Sheds Light on the “Elusive Boundary Line Between Idea and Expression”

Home / Blog / Copyright Law / Copyright Blog, December 8, 2023 — A Case About Blood Alcohol Testing Kiosks Sheds Light on the “Elusive Boundary Line Between Idea and Expression”

From our counsel Matt Hersh: Yesterday in IP Law Daily I wrote about SnagPod, LLC v. Precision Kiosk Technologies, Inc., a case that dives headfirst into “the elusive boundary line between idea and expression, between process and non-functional expression.” (The case was decided originally two months ago, but this week the court rejected reconsideration and made it final.)

To summarize quickly: A company makes a kiosk enabling rapid blood alcohol testing (it’s a monitoring tool for probation officers). Another company comes along and makes a kiosk doing the same thing. The first company sues. It’s not a patent case, and the company isn’t claiming theft of its software code. Instead, the company claims that the competitor ripped off the structure and sequence of its user interface. Users of the original product had to pass through a series of pages entitled that welcome the user, ask them for personal info, have them take a photo and submit fingerprints, have him do the test, and so on. The competitors’ product, the company claimed, showed essentially the same pages in the same sequence. Copyright infringement?

Not infringement, said the court. Indeed, no copyright protection at all for the structure and sequence of the pages. Given the function of the kiosk, there’s only so many ways those pages could have been put together. And in the software context, the court noted, this means that “elements of a program dictated by practical realities” can’t be protected by copyright. If the court granted copyright protection to the Michigan company for those elements of the product for which it sought protection, the court noted, it would gain a monopoly on breathalyzer kiosks. That’s a matter for patent law, not copyright.

Full link to my article here.

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