As a sea­so­ned or upco­m­ing pro­grammer, it is impe­ra­ti­ve for you to have a firm grasp of some of the major legal aspects of soft­ware deve­lo­p­ment and what they mean to the soft­ware indus­try. When it comes to knowing the extent of your intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty rights, igno­ran­ce is inex­cus­able. I have run out of fin­gers coun­ting the num­ber of soft­ware deve­lo­pers who have made the reg­rett­able mista­ke of not paying clo­se atten­ti­on their encryp­ti­on rights, and have ended up paying big time. So, whe­ther you’­re a free­lan­ce deve­lo­per or an employee working under a soft­ware enter­pri­se, here is what you need to acquaint yourself with;

Issu­es sur­roun­ding soft­ware patents

A patent is sim­ply a legal juris­dic­tion bar­ring other peop­le from making, sel­ling or using your crea­ti­on for a spe­ci­fied amount of time. As a soft­ware deve­lo­per, it’s pos­si­ble for you to patent your work the same way engi­neers do to pro­tect the design spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons of new inven­ti­ons. None­theless, to obtain a patent for your crea­ti­on, the algo­rithm or soft­ware has to be over 95% ori­gi­nal and you’­re also requi­red by the law to dis­c­lo­se to the public the ‘reci­pe’ of your pro­ject. Nowa­days it’s beco­me easier to purcha­se patents as they are even avail­ab­le online. If you have an upco­m­ing uni­que and novel pro­ject, well, it’s high time you obtai­ned a patent pro­tec­tion if you’­re plan­ning on mar­ke­ting it in the future.

What about copy­right protection?

One of the major mis­con­strued legal aspects of soft­ware deve­lo­p­ment revol­ves around copy­right pro­tec­tion and what it ent­ails. For star­ters, a copy­right is basi­cal­ly an exclu­si­ve set of rights given to the owner of the crea­ti­on that allows them to make copies of their work and dis­tri­bu­te them. The same right, howe­ver, bars other from doing the same. The copy­right pro­tec­tion also covers any deri­va­ti­ve works that could be based on the pro­gram created.

So wha­t’s the dif­fe­rence bet­ween a patent and a copy­right? While a patent shiel­ds you from any out­right imi­ta­ti­on, the copy­right act is only use­ful in restric­ting others from copy­ing your soft­ware’s exact source code or gra­phics. That means if the­re is no evi­dence of exact dupli­ca­ti­on, a copy­right pro­tec­tion is likely to be ruled out in a court of law.

What about a tra­de secret?

One of the loo­p­ho­les of patents and copy­right is that they are limi­ted for only a spe­ci­fied peri­od, most­ly about 20 years. After that, the owner of such regis­tra­ti­ons loses the right to their intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty, and the public could dupli­ca­te and use it as they please.

Take for examp­le if you wro­te a pro­gram that pre­dicts the forex with almost 100% accu­ra­cy. A patent or copy­right will only pro­tect your crea­ti­on for 15–20 years and then com­pe­ti­tors would be free to sell, modi­fy and dis­tri­bu­te it.

Howe­ver, if you deci­ded to keep it as a tra­de secret, you can con­trol who uses your code while limi­t­ing others from acces­sing it. With this kind of pla­gia­rism and pri­va­cy pro­tec­tion, it’s pos­si­ble to remain the exclu­si­ve owner of your crea­ti­on indefinitely.

Nevertheless, to effect a tra­de secret agree­ment, it essen­ti­al that the soft­ware deve­lo­per takes a num­ber of con­fi­den­tia­li­ty mea­su­res first. This includes;
a.) Not dis­clo­sing the source code to the public, eit­her direct­ly or indirectly.
b.) Limi­t­ing access to the exe­cu­ta­ble code.
c,) Pro­tec­ting the crea­ti­on with robust pass­word algorithms.

Going by the exis­ting legal aspects of soft­ware deve­lo­p­ment, if your work qua­li­fies for a tra­de secret agree­ment, then you could restrict others from ever using or tra­ding your code without a writ­ten consent.