Any software company knows that the field is incredibly competitive and fast-paced. Current systems are constantly being outpaced by new ones, and startups can fade just as quickly as they spring up.
To ensure that your company stays competitive in a field such as bitcoin software, understanding intellectual property law, or IP law, is crucial.
IP regulations govern much of how the software market functions. That’s why no business should be operating without a clear sense of what IP law means for them.
What does IP Law Cover?
Intellectual property refers to things that a person or company can own, but that is intellectual and not necessarily physical or tangible.
Here are the important differences between copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets:
- Copyrights. Copyrights cover anything deemed legally as a work of “art.” This can include literary works, musical material, sculptures, etc.
- Patents, which are a key part of IP protection, since they are not covered in common law. Patents must be filed and registered to serve as a litigative tool.
- Trademarks. Trademarks have more to do with letting consumers identify a brand, covering logos, jingles, taglines, and the like.
- Trade Secrets. Trade secrets involve the behind-the-scenes elements that make a company function the way it does, such as marketing strategies and supply chains, etc.
As you can see, IP law is a fairly broad field and covers a lot of different bases. So which parts of IP law should we be looking at for important software?
IP Law and Software
Software can be thought of as having two components in the eyes of intellectual property lawyers. One component is the underlying code, and the other is the function, or utility, of the software itself.
Code could technically fall under the category of creative work, much like a novel or poem would. Coding is a creative endeavor: that’s what sets great coders apart from the rest.
However, it wouldn’t be a good idea to copyright your precious software code. This is because copyrights involve work that is published, and in most cases, you don’t want your code out in the open unless you’re selling the underlying code itself.
More valuable to most businesses is the software, because if the coding remains secret and unique enough, no one else will be able to offer comparable software. Since the other component of software is its function, we’re now looking at a utility patent.
Utility patents are the most common type of patent (as opposed to design patents, which deal with ornamental characteristics), and seek to offer a temporary monopoly on the function of something novel and non-obvious.
They can vary in cost, and the process can be time consuming, from doing a patent search to the point of filing. It can also be costly, although the cost of a patent may not always be as much as you’d think. But in the end, patenting is hugely important, because it can help you fend off competition or even IP infringement.
IP Enforcement and the Blockchain
For something like the code behind a new blockchain innovation, a company might seek to file for trade secret protection. That way, the code itself stays protected from prying eyes, while its function can be patented.
Blockchain technology has great implications for intellectual property tracking and enforcement. Due to the unique traceability made possible by decentralized blockchain sequences, companies and individuals have more ways to see if their work is being unfairly used.
J.D. Houvener, of Bold Patents Philadelphia Law Firm, describes it this way:
“The blockchain is definitely huge for enforcing fairness when it comes to the use of intellectual property. Creatives like photographers or graphic designers now have the ability to trace much more reliably if their work has been used elsewhere without permission, if a watermark has been cropped out, and all kinds of infringement that otherwise would be hard to detect.”
As technological advancements continue, intellectual property law will become both more important and effective.
Every small business should be aware of the basics of intellectual property protection to be able to make informed decisions about IP law.
Software in particular is an area where IP enforcement comes into play, since it involves copyrights, trade secrets, and utility patents.
If you believe you have unique and novel software that may be the next big thing, consult a patent attorney. Also, try to learn about your options and next steps.
For more articles about software startups, blockchain, and IP, head over to the blog.
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