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Protect your software: here are the legal tools to use

The protection of the intellectual property of computer programs simultaneously uses several tools to defend against the risk of copying.

Computer programs are now widely used in all daily activities, for example as calculation or simulation tools in scientific research, as means of process control in the manufacturing industry, in data processing and management in commercial, financial, logistic contexts and in the entertainment sector.

Often, innovation lies in software: a program can support us in our work activities, but also in our personal and entertainment activities. Even a new smartphone app is a software product, which can and should be protected from competition.

It is evident that the development of a technology realized by computer programs requires an economic investment, but it - by its nature - more than other technologies exposes itself to the risk of copying, which is all the more concrete the easier it is to copy the computer program.

When a new computer program is created, it is a mistaken conviction of many to think that it is not protectable, or only marginally so, perhaps because an over-synthesis of patent law comes to mind, according to which "software is not patentable". Nothing less true!

What does software consist of?

A program is therefore a set of instructions for a computer, a smartphone, an integrated processing system of a vehicle, a toy, a robot or an industrial plant, expressed using a programming language (source code) to communicate which operations of a process to perform in a specific order (algorithm).

The program may be software or firmware, permanently stored on media or downloadable remotely; it may be an operating system, a library, a database, an application program.

Where user interaction is required, the program uses graphical interfaces for data/command entry and result display. When a computer product or service based on the program is offered in the marketplace, it is also given a trade name.

So, how to protect software?

The protection of the intellectual property of computer programs considered as a whole (algorithms, codes, interfaces) makes use of several instruments at the same time, each of which can exclusively protect a particular aspect of it, insofar as it is new and original or creative.

  • Algorithms, as the expression of a processing or control process having a technical character, are protectable by means of patents of invention.

  • Program codes, written in the language and compilation form adopted by the programmer, as well as databases can be protected, in their expressive form and arrangement of elements, under copyright law.

  • Graphical interfaces (including icons) may be protected as designs.

  • Trade names are protected as trademarks.

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Author: Edgardo Deambrogi - Partner - European Patent Attorney - edeambrogi[at]

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