December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Copy cat or copyright?

It had to happen sometime: Dot-coms are dueling their way into court. First Priceline sued Microsoft’s Expedia for copying its name-your-price reverse auction technique, then Amazon took on Barnes & Noble for nipping at its heels with a one-click-to-buy feature. Now the inventor of StyleFitter, personalized shopping software, has charged several retailers with stepping on her patent.

StyleFitter owner Andrea Rose seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction as well as damages. Her suit names J.C. Penney Co., Land’s End Inc., Broderland Software Inc., Heart Corp. Public Technologies Multimedia Inc. of Montreal, Mattel Inc., owner of The Learning Co., and Federated Department Stores Inc., owner of Macy’s.

Intellectual property cases are an important issue in a burgeoning industry like e-commerce, says Richard Berkman, senior analyst at net.Genesis in Cambridge, Mass. “Early on, you’ll see a lot of landmark cases.”

To win her case, Berkman adds, Rose must prove that retailers named in her complaint are using some base of her code. The problem with intellectual property is that ideas themselves are not proprietary. Says Berkman, “That’s like one supermarket suing another for using the Express Lane concept.”

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