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Introduction to IP Rights in Software

Introduction to IP in Software

Software comes in all shapes and sizes, some more visible than others. Breaking things down into code, there are essentially two types: object code and source code.

Object code is the instructions which tell the computer what to do. By the time software reaches an end user, it will typically be in object code form.

Source code, on the other hand, is the stuff of programming. At the lowest level, a computer runs on binary code – 1s and 0s – quite literally electrical “ons” and “offs”. Coding is rarely undertaken at such a low level any more and instead is performed using one of a number of higher-level languages such as Python, Java, C++, Visual Basic, JavaScript and countless others. While there are numerous exceptions, particularly in the world of Open Source software, users generally do not have access to source code.

Beyond the code itself, there are many other elements that make up a typical software program including graphical elements, text, sounds, and video.

Software is a complex bundle of IP rights not only of different types (for example, copyright, design rights, and trade marks), but may also comprise components from multiple sources and, therefore, multiple owners.

  • Copyright protects code as a literary work.
  • Designs (both registered and unregistered) can protect graphical elements such as interface designs.
  • Trade Marks can protect the name and logo of a piece of software.
  • Patents can be used to protect the technical ideas behind the software, but they are by far the most complex of IP rights to deal with. Software patentability has long been a contentious issue and may not be the preferable option for protecting software, particularly that which does not satisfy the all-important criteria of “novelty” and “inventive step”.
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