Since it announced plans last summer to acquire Ashton-Tate, maker of the popular dBase data-base program, Borland International Inc. has been stuck in an awkward position on one aspect of the software-copyright issue. With the acquisition, Borland stood to inherit a lawsuit Ashton-Tate had brought in 1988 against Fox Software Inc. In it, the company claimed Fox had illegally copied the commands and programming language used in dBase. But at the same time, Borland is a defendant in a comparable suit filed by Lotus Development Corp. Lotus claims that Borland has illegally copied the look, feel, and commands of its 1-2-3 spreadsheet.
Thanks to the federal government, Borland is breathing easier: In mid-October, the Justice Dept. ruled that as a condition of Borland's $440 million acquisition of Ashton-Tate, the Fox suit had to be dropped. To ensure that Borland would not exert undue influence over the data-base market, it prohibited the company from bringing similar suits for 10 years. Since Borland believes the dBase suit is similar to the Lotus one, it claims the ruling now alters the legal climate in its favor. Lotus strongly disagrees.