Part Numbers Not Entitled To Copyright Protection

Profession:Hughes & Luce LLP

A Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has held that part numbers for hardware are not subject to copyright protection if the numbers result from a mechanical application of numbers to part function.

Southco sued competitor Kanebridge Corp. in federal court in Pennsylvania, alleging that Kanebridge infringed Southco's copyright in a numbering system for screws and other fastening devices used in the telecommunications industry. By adopting Southco's numbering system, Kanebridge made it easier for customers to determine which of its competing parts were substitutes for the originals. The District Court found that the numbering system used "unique, non-intuitive and highly complex attributes," and should be protected by copyright.

A unanimous Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reversing the decision below. The appeals court held that "Southco's part numbers are completely devoid of originality, and instead result from the mechanical application of the numbering system." Relying on Supreme Court authority that telephone numbers are not sufficiently expressive to warrant copyright protection, the...

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