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Intellectual Property in Software Code

Intellectual Property in Software Code

If you are a programmer, software developer, web designer or other professional and your business is dependent on software code, then making sure that your software is legally protected will be an important consideration for you and your company.

The law in this area is not entirely straightforward, which is why you should seek commercially-focused legal advice as soon as possible. At Selachii, our team offer cutting edge, commercial, tech-savvy legal advice to modern businesses. We’ve been at the forefront of developments in technology and the law, such as Bitcoin and are experienced in intellectual property law. Call us on 0203 553 0100 to arrange a consultation.

Software, Intellectual Property and the Law in the UK

Software code is not clearly protected by UK intellectual property law. The two main means of protecting software code in the UK are Copyright and Patent. Of these two, Patent is the most difficult to obtain for reasons explained below. Copyright is easier as it does not need to be registered and the protections afforded last longer. It does, however, require to be enforced retrospectively and the protections offered are not as strong.

Copyright is said to ‘subsist’ in qualifying works. These are works which are original and required ‘skill, labour and judgment’ to create. Most often, these are literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. However, software code can be copyrighted insofar as:

  • The code is an original literary work
  • The resulting display on the screen is an artistic work
  • The resulting soundtrack is a musical work
  • Moving images are protected as film and so on.

Can I copyright software code?

You can’t ‘copyright’ per se, because, as described above, copyright automatically exists in qualifying works. As far as software is concerned, it is the 'literal' aspect of the software that is protected. This means the actual written code. 

It is also possible that the certain design or graphical elements of the interface or display can be protected by copyright.

What copyright does not protect:

The ‘look and feel’ produced by your code (for instance, a website) is not protected. If someone replicates the look and feel but uses a different code to get the same results, then you may not be able to take legal action. Copyright does not protect generic elements, nor does it protect ideas or 'functional' elements.

Rather, copyright gives you the legal right to protect your software. It ensures that you have greater control over the use of your software and thus to profit from it. This means, for example, that end users are unable to make a copy and sell, rent or change the programme. You can licence the software to licensees to give them temporary rights to modify your software. You can impose upon these licensees the duty to share their modifications of the software with others. This isn’t possible if the software is not protected.

How long is software protected by copyright for?

The protection for copyright lasts for the duration of the author's life, plus 70 years. This is significantly longer than the protections afforded by patent, which is 20 years.

How do I copyright my software?

Once the code is written you don’t have to do anything to protect it. Copyright protection is a right that comes into existence automatically – it ‘subsists’ in original works.

While this seems straightforward, you may need to be aware of who actually owns copyright in the software. If, for instance, you hire a freelance developer or agency to write all or part of the code, then they may own copyright in that part of the software. To protect yourself from this, you can specify in their contract who owns the software. If an employee writes the code during their ordinary employment, then it is you (as the employer) who owns the code.

What can users do with my software code?

There are some limitations concerning how you can control your software code under copyright law. If someone purchases your software, they then have a license to create any copies/make corrections in order to use the programme for its intended purpose, or to fix errors. The purchased can also copy the software for their personal use.

Patenting Software Code

As stated above, copyright does not protect the ‘functional’ aspects of the software. Copyright does not protect the outcome, process or function that the software code achieves. If your software is functional (rather than designed to achieve something artistic) then you should seek a patent rather than copyright. 

Patent law protects ideas in a functional form. For example, Amazon’s ‘1 click' software is protected by a patent. With patent protection, it is the function that is protected whereas copyright protects the ‘look and feel’ that results, or the code itself, as written.

Patent protection lasts for 20 years and, (unlike copyright which automatically comes into existence) patent applications must be applied for. You will need to hire a patent lawyer to help write the patent, which will usually cost between £3000 and £6000 plus the registration fees. The registration fees should be between £230 and £280 for a UK Patent.

Clearly, this is expensive and, as such, should only be done with the help of one of our expert solicitors who can steer you through the process.

Contact our Software Copyright Lawyers in Kensington, London Now.

Selachii is a dynamic litigation law firm based in Kensington, London. We put the best interests of our clients at the heart of everything we do. We work with both businesses and private individuals, giving them legal advice and support which is unique to them and their situation. Arrange a consultation with us now. We will provide you with all the recommendations and advice needed to solve your query.

To speak to a lawyer today call 0203 553 0100 or complete our online enquiry form.

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Selachii is a dynamic litigation law firm based in Kensington, London. We put the best interests of our clients at the heart of everything we do. We work with both businesses and private individuals, giving them legal advice and support which is unique to them and their situation.

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