Nowadays, IT professionals talk a lot about intellectual property (IP). However, how can IP be applied to software? Why is it vital to protect your program? What is the proper way to do that?
IP rights are at the groundwork of the software development market. They stand for a great variety of intangible ownership rights. Every right is an asset. Your company can protect the rights of your exclusive projects in various ways, determined by the law.
When it comes to protecting your piece of software, there are four basic types of IP. Each of them grants a specific level of legal protection. To safeguard the tech innovation as a whole, legal systems use various authorities and licenses. While some means safeguard the entire software product (e.g., a full mobile game), other licenses like trademarks protect parts of the ready project. That could be specific development stages or approaches. It is a perfect way to distinguish a project in the marketplace.
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What Is IP in Terms of Software Development? Definition & Meaning
In this post, we’re not going to cover the nature of IP. We are going to focus on software protection. IP is a piece of art or another original work that is never a tangible object. You can touch a book or painting, but you cannot touch intellectual property. However, without legal rights, anyone can use your work, pretending that it was not created by you.
Still, software IP is a bit different. This term can be best described as a code written in the specific programming language safeguarded by law under one of several ways. They include:
Why does it matter? Just like works of art, software solutions are valuable to their creators. Without legal regulations, there is no guarantee that your piece of software won’t ever be copied. That is why software can and should be treated as intellectual property. Only after protecting the rights of your masterpiece, you get full control over it, deciding who can use your work and when. Otherwise, you risk losing money as no one will pay for a piece that does not belong to someone on a legal level. Sometimes, developers even lose the right to use tools created by their hands.
Types of Intellectual Property: Making a Difference
This is the exceptional right to develop, use, and sell a piece of software. Let’s say, you live or create solutions in the US. Then, you’ll have to turn to the Patent Office with all the details on your project and show that your tool is:
- Innovative: No tech solution functions the same way
- Helpful: It’s possible to highlight specific perks that a user can obtain
- Non-apparent: Your software should not be the apparent further stage in the creation of an existing tech
- Patentable subject matter: Various regions have different laws and regulations, so studying them to find out whether you can apply for a patent is necessary
Mind that patents have an expiration date just as most products. In the case described above, it’s 20 years. It is more than enough to get all the advantages during that period of time.
Patents matter most of all, and provide 100% protection from data leak. At the same time, this type of IP is the most challenging to receive as too many requirements should be met. It’s also necessary to study application rules in various countries.
Patents are powerful economic instruments. You can obtain one for ideas, approaches, techniques, algorithms, and features of the program:
- Editing functions
- Software algorithms
- User-interface peculiarities
- Menu arrangements
- Language translation features
- Compiling methods, etc.
Once again, patents are exclusive. Any third party that tries to use it for their own purposes like earning money without obtaining a permission from the patent owner is guilty of infringement (acting against the law). Law breakers typically face stiff penalties.
Copyright is something associated with the rights defense in the first place. Everyone knows its symbol, but not everyone realizes how it works. Software is involved in the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This type of intellectual property defends certain expressions of the original idea. Having a copyright means having the exclusive right to change, duplicate, distribute, promote, and/or sell software to third parties. After you obtain this type of protection, you’ll be able to make a damages claim against any party who violates copyright.
Once again, the piece should be 100% unique just like the book written by its author. While developing a specific app, your team should do that through your skills, personal effort, judgment, and previous experience.
Your piece is automatically protected upon development. The authors don’t have to apply for this type of IP or register original work. Copyright is usually enabled for fifty days from the end of the calendar year in which the creator died or disappeared. When it comes to programming, the final product would be under defense for 75 years from its release.
Moreover, copyright can be also applied to products that are not yet ready (e.g., Minimum Viable Product). You can also apply this type of IP to tech specs or flowcharts. Thus, copyright can “step in the game” at almost any stage of software development, but it should already be something that would provide an original idea of the innovation.
Now, can you imagine how improbable it would be for the same hundreds of code lines to be generated independently by someone not engaged in unauthorized duplicating? Copyright law is not how you can safeguard the ideas that were born before or during the project creation. If you do not protect your IP, ideas that you might have are fair game for your rivals. Besides, competitors can come up with their own ideas inspired by your product unless they duplicate it or its specific features.
This collection of independent info or works can be a subject to copyright protection. It should be deemed unique, meaning developed from scratch. The copyright in this case lasts for fifteen years from the end of the year in which its development is over. Did you face any troubles with getting an official copyright? In case some of the database features do not meet the requirements, its owner may still apply for the EU bodies and claim to protect it by particular EU law. In this case, presentation of the contents. These steps will prevent your database from extraction of the content.
Most probably, you’ve seen the popular sign ™. How about ®? Those symbols are called trademarks. To distinguish a specific piece of software, its developer should first choose the way to express it. Trademark is one more way to protect IP. It could be everything from a symbol to name.
4. Trade secrets
This mechanism is stored secretly by its owner to gain a competitive advantage. The original design of an app would fall under copyright. As for the secret, unique way the developer creates that application would fall under a trade secret. The rival has no opportunity to find this secret by learning or taking apart the ready project.
In theory, this type of IP can last forever. In fact, it can last as long as its author attempts to hide it from the eyes of third parties. Also, a trade secret can last until no one independently creates or “finds” it.
This type of intellectual property isn’t subject to being “infringed.” It makes it different from other IPs described above. Trade secrets are subject to theft. Only in case the creator of software proves the secret was not widely known and certain steps were taken to retain its privacy, their legal status will be upheld.
No one has a right to spy on your business and steal objects of trade secrets. However, remember that this type of intellectual property falls under the law while the creator keeps it secret or until any third party has discovered it on their own. In case your competitors discover your secret with the help of reverse engineering, it is fair game.
Which Type of IP Should You Choose to Protect Your Software?
The programming code automatically turns into a trade secret. It happens at the initial stages of the development process. This code falls under the copyright. The author of software does not have to apply for a patent/trademark to be legal. Patent law can also protect a piece of software in case its author has applied for a patent.
Software Rights and Trademarks
Some components of a software such as displays and graphics might be:
- Registered as a design right in the United Kingdom and EU. The way your app looks, from interface to overall design, can be registered under UK design rights. Still, it’s impossible to register entire applications or protect them by design rights. Only the design is a subject to this law.
- Subject to community or unregistered design rights. The protection lasts for 3 years from the day the unique app’s design was first available to the public in the community.
- Still, an application can be patentable if it has a particular tech neture. Recently, the European Patent Office and the United Kingdom Property Office have been providing patent claims related to software development.
- As mentioned above, apps can’t be protected by trademarks, logos associated with that software can be protected as official trademarks.
How to Protect Software Intellectual Property
Protecting the code is crucial for a vendor. They should make sure that no third party will ever steal their software or use it for any other purposes. In fact, it’s time to think about protecting your final product long before you release it.
- Recruit a professional attorney or team of lawyers to make it clear which is the best way to protect your product, as well as what kind of rights you will obtain.
- File for patents and register trademarks whenever you can do that.
- Screen staff and outsourced experts and ask them to sign non-disclosure documents before cooperating with you. After all, staff is the foundation of a trade secret protection program.
- Keep your data on secure devices with reliable protection means like complicated passwords and two-factor authentication and stick to the top practices for info security.
Verdict: Which Type of Intellectual Property Is Right for Your Business?
Boosting the economic value of a software product largely depends on realizing the nature of the IP rights and how best to apply the available types of legal protection to safeguard those rights. Mind the differences between the ways to protect your software intellectual property and decide which one is right for you. Anyway, do not be in a hurry and discuss everything with the legal advisor or company that specializes in outsourcing and team extension for many years. You can always rely on the experts from Intellisoft – feel free to contact us and learn more about protecting your app intellectual property.