During the Covid-19 Pandemic
How to Protect Computer Programs and Software
Copyright and Patent IP Protection
Over the many years, I have been involved in the intellectual property protection of computer programs. Whether the client has come up with software which applies to accounting, oil & gas applications, or even advanced artificial intelligence, the underlying legal and business issue is whether the invention can be protected by a copyright or patent. This can seem quite complex and confusing. It’s really not difficult at all.
Most inventors approach the Moster Law Firm when the computer program is at its beta testing phase or shortly before. The client will typically send me a link or demonstrate the operation of the system in my law office. It is always fascinating, whether it works or not!
My initial advice is to protect the Intellectual Property by taking immediate steps. Inventors invariably fail to see the value of their technology and often think that anyone could come up with the idea. This is dead wrong and I try to dissuade the client almost immediately of this false notion. I emphasize that the world is full of people who will steal your idea in a heartbeat and misappropriate your IP for their financial gain.
My recommendation is typically two-fold: get a copyright and at least a provisional patent if the software qualifies. First as to copyrights which apply to various original works like books, music, and artwork. Computer programs are considered a literary work and can be copyrighted under federal law. If you think about it, computer programs are based on configurations of code, not unlike a combination of words which comprise a novel. An important nuance many are unaware of is that the actual pages of code can be redacted to prevent a competitor from reverse engineering your hard work. You don’t have to copyright the entire code but excerpts from the beginning and end and highly edited if the code constitutes a trade secret which it almost certainly does. Critically, you must get a copyright filed to assert enforcement rights to prevent third parties from stealing your original work. Copyright laws provide a myriad of enforcement remedies from getting an injunction to damages. The life of a copyright is equal to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years.
A patent is also available but only if the program provides specific functionality and does not solely constitute an abstract idea. This is exceedingly difficult for a non-lawyer to understand and requires the knowledge and counsel of an experienced patent attorney. Assuming the invention qualifies, there are two options at vastly different costs. The least expensive and most expeditious route is to get a provisional patent also known as a patent pending. This is simply a filing which is not examined by the patent office but protects the invention for one year subject to the filing of a vetted utility patent. The latter is a far more expensive undertaking than the former.
Many inventors will opt for a provisional patent as it gives them time to present their new protected technology to potential investors and test the market. The lifespan of a patent is a mere 20 years.
We love working with new ideas in the field of technology in any sector area. Feel free to give us a call at the Turing Technology Group to find out more.
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