This article has been submitted by Greenaway Scott
Developing software can be a costly and time-consuming process for any business.
As such, a vital consideration that cannot be overlooked, is the role of intellectual property protection, specifically copyright.
Software is protected by copyright automatically providing that:
- The work falls into a category of work under copyright law – software falls under literary work;
- The work must qualify for protection under UK law; and
- The term of copyright has not expired.
The protection is granted due to the creation of the software. However, copyright will protect only the software in the form written by a programmer; its source code.
Other intellectual property rights such as trademarks will be able to protect the logos used in the software as this would not be protected by copyright. It is only the literal aspects of the software that is protected by copyright. The main benefit of copyright protection is that it prevents people from copying your work.
The duration of copyright protection in software lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which its author died. However, if the software is generated by a computer (meaning that the computer created it mechanically using a pre-entered programme) then the duration of the protection is 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.
Although copyright is granted automatically, it is useful to keep records and evidence of the works you have created. You can make people aware of your claim to copyright but putting the © symbol, your name and year of publication on your work.
Although this is not proof of the copyright ownership it may be beneficial if there was ever an infringement. It is also useful to send yourself a copy of your work, clearly date stamped and by special delivery. Do not open the envelope. You could also send copies to a solicitor. This does not prove that the work was created by you but it proves that the work was in your possession at a particular time.
There is also the option to patent software, however this is very difficult. To obtain a patent the invention must new, involves an inventive step, is capable of industrial or technical application and does not fall within the exclusions. UK and EU law states that patents for a programme for a computer will not be granted.
However, if the software/computer programme contains a necessary technical character it may be patentable. The EU and UK patent offices have been granting patents in relation to software/computer programmes for many years. The issue here is that there must be an inventive step.