The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to reinstate Apple Computer’s massive copyright lawsuit against rivals Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.
The court, without comment, turned down Apple’s argument that the two companies improperly copied the screen display design of its Macintosh computer program.
The Macintosh computer, introduced by Apple in 1984, was a success partly because the screen display uses symbols - such as office-type file folders - instead of written commands to show users how to operate the system.
Microsoft introduced a similar program called Windows in 1985. Apple raised copyright concerns, but later that year agreed to let Microsoft use the visual displays in its Windows program and to license them to other software makers.
Hewlett Packard introduced its NewWave program in 1987 under a license from Microsoft.
Apple sued the two companies in 1988, contending the NewWave program and a newer version of Windows copied the Macintosh program more closely than the licensing agreement allowed. Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has claimed lost profits in the billions of dollars.
A federal judge ruled against Apple, saying more than 90 percent of Windows and two-thirds of NewWave was allowed by the license. Most of the remaining symbols were not protected by copyright, the judge said, adding that many of them were not original.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last year.
“By virtue of the licensing agreement, Microsoft and HP were entitled to use the vast majority of features that Apple claims were copied,” the appeals court said. Apple could have recovered damages on the remaining features only if they were virtually identical, it said.
In the appeal acted on Tuesday, Apple’s lawyers said that standard “would deprive all computer software, and perhaps other creative works as well, of effective copyright protection.”
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., and Hewlett Packard of Palo Alto, Calif., copied the Macintosh program’s screen design on a “grand scale,” Apple’s lawyers said.
Attorneys for Microsoft and Hewlett Packard said the 9th Circuit court did not set a new copyright standard but relied on the fact that the two companies were licensed to use most of the Macintosh display.