Intellectual Property Rights & Licensing in Software

The term, Intellectual Property comes with when there is an invention, new designing, or manufacturing a new device in any sector. But how IP rights apply for the software industry? How do you protect your software that has been developed for business or a client?

Intellectual property rights are at the foundation of the software industry. There are essentially four types of intellectual property rights relevant to software. They are Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, and Trade secrets. Patents, copyrights, and trade secrets can be used to protect the technology itself. Unlike these 3 Trademarks serve a different purpose which is to protect consumers by guaranteeing the source of a product or service.

Patents — Patents laws vary from country to country. To obtain a patent, the programmer must apply to the Patent Office in order to protect his software. Software patents are extremely powerful that it can protect the features of the software.

Copyrights — In the software industry, copyright law would protect the source and object code. Copyright protection arises automatically upon the creation of an original work of authorship.

Trade Secrets — Many features of the software, such as code and the ideas and concepts reflected in it, can be protected as trade secrets.

Trademarks — Trademarks work to protect the software’s name or any symbols which have been used in place of a name. Programmers are required to request trademarks.

Software Licensing

A software license is a document that provides legally binding guidelines for the use and distribution of software. It allows users to do certain things that would otherwise be an infringement of copyright law. Software license actually restricts the ways of duplicating the software or installing it more than one computer etc. These are the five main reasons a software developer should have a software license.

  1. It prevents abuses of your software.
  2. It allows you to license it and not sell it.
  3. It allows you to disclaim warranties.
  4. It can limit your liability.
  5. It can allow you to terminate use at any time with no problems.

There are four main sections of the software license agreement and they cover the information that is key to the execution of the agreement. They are General information, parties involved, terms of the agreement, and fine details.

Types of Software Licenses

The two common categories in software licenses are proprietary software and free-and-open source software.

  • Freeware

It is usually free of restrictions for personal use. Restrictions come into effect if the software is redistributed. It doesn’t give the right to modify or sublicense. Ex: Irfanview, Winamp

  • Public Domain

When software is in the public domain, anyone can modify and use the software without any restrictions. Ex: SQLite, ImageJ

  • Permissive

They contain minimal requirements about how the software can be modified or redistributed. This type of software license is perhaps the most popular license used with free and open-source software. Ex: MIT license, BSD license, Apache license

  • GNU General public license (Copyleft)

These licenses allow you to modify the licensed code and distribute new works based on it, as long as you distribute any new works or adaptations under the same software license. Ex: Linux kernel

  • Proprietary

The idea behind it is that all rights are reserved. It’s generally used for proprietary software where the work may not be modified or redistributed. Ex: Windows

A developer might need to think about how to license your software or application since both the copyright owner and the recipient or user can benefit from such a license.

Software Engineering Undergraduate University of Kelaniya