While the digital age has seen an explosion of development in software, website, and application content and technology, it has also witnessed some of the greatest violations of intellectual property rights ever seen. These and related intellectual assets are under constant threat from dishonest companies, opportunistic criminals, and even rogue nations. With so many individuals and entities looking for ways to rip off your intellectual property, what steps can you take to secure it? You start by trusting a law firm with extensive experience handling such matters and protecting the rights of developers. That firm is SederLaw.
The Threats to Developers and How We Stop Them
Businesses, start-ups, and individuals all invest significant time and resources into developing software, websites, and applications. Unfortunately, there are other individuals, companies, and foreign governments that go to great lengths to pirate or otherwise misappropriate these assets. In the absence of strong legal protections, backed by rigorous enforcement, a developer could be faced with:
- Another person or entity passing off the developer’s ideas as their own
- Losing the right to reap the profits, reputational advantages, and other benefits associated with the development
- Losing all rights to the software, website, or application as someone else files paperwork (e.g. copyright registration) to make your product their own
Intellectual property theft is a major problem in the digital age, and it will likely accelerate with the advent of artificial intelligence. Tracking down and prosecuting the offending party is challenging, though not impossible. But before you can do so, you must take steps to legally protect the software, websites, and/or applications you or your organization have created.
Copyright Protections for Developers
Registering a copyright is one way to protect your intellectual assets. A copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship. Merely having an idea for a piece of software, a website, or an application is not sufficient. It must first be fixed in a tangible form.
While many people associate copyright with books, music, and movies, it can also protect computer programs (such as applications, or “apps”), software code, and website content (including written text, graphic designs, pictures, videos, and audio recordings). If you are a developer of these products, we can use the copyright registration process to your advantage. This includes:
- Preparing and applying for copyright registration
- A detailed explanation of your copyright protection and related legal rights
- Litigation to enforce your copyright against threatened and actual infringement
- Defense against alleged copyright violations, if another party claims your work is actually theirs
One of the issues facing copyright owners is the fair use doctrine, which allows non-holders to use copyrighted material without having to obtain permission to do so. But there are limits to this doctrine and our firm can advise you as to what they are. Our firm also helps with related matters such as drafting copyright licensing agreements and facilitating business transactions that implicate copyright issues.
Patent Protections for Developers
Compared to copyrights, patents are focused on protecting inventions. These can include certain processes, technologies, and functionalities. A copyright can be broadly thought of as protecting a creative idea (in fixed form), while a patent protects a new way of doing something.
All three types of intellectual assets – software, websites, and applications – can, to varying degrees, be secured by patents. For example:
- Software. Copyrights protect the lines of code used to develop the software, while a valid patent can cover the functionality and operation of the software.
- Websites. Although websites are generally subject to copyright protections, software used for certain features on a website, such as the payment system, can in some cases be patented.
- Applications. As with software, the code used to create an app may be patented if it meets the criteria set forth below which apply to patents generally.
An invention (including software and application code and systems, mentioned above) is patentable if it meets these five requirements:
- It is patentable subject matter (something that would be covered by a patent as opposed to, e.g., copyright)
- Utility, which refers to the general usefulness of the product
- Novelty, meaning not already patented or known or used by others
- Nonobviousness, meaning it must not be easily perceived by a person of expertise in that invention’s field (e.g., software development)
- Enablement, which concerns a written description of the invention along with the manner and process of making and using it
We are able to assist with all aspects of patent law, including registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and litigation to enforce your patent rights.
Trademark Protections for Developers
Trademarks become relevant in the broad area known as product branding. A branding element is something that an individual or company uses to identify, market, and sell a product or service. With respect to all three intellectual assets – software, websites, and applications – trademarks exist to cover:
- A product, service, or company name
- The logo used to identify the product, service, or company
- A design, including color scheme, that sets the product, service, or company apart from others
- Other identifying features used in your software, website, or app that are not covered by other forms of intellectual property
Think of a trademark as a unique symbol, word, or phrase that helps the public identify the goods or services you or your business offer. SederLaw can assist with:
- Preparing and filing all necessary paperwork to apply for trademark protection
- Helping you avoid the use of similar or potentially confusing trademarks that may infringe on the rights of others
- Using your trademark as part of your overall branding strategy
- Registration and protection of website domain names
- Litigation and other steps to stop trademark infringement and seek damages
Trade Secret Protections for Developers
Trade secrets include designs, formulas, processes, patterns, practices, instruments, or compilations of information that bestow economic value upon the developer because they are not generally known or readily ascertainable by other individuals or businesses. Aspects of your software, website, or application may contain trade secrets that can be protected and enforced.
An essential component of a trade secret is that it must be restricted and kept secret from others. The holder of the trade secret must therefore take reasonable steps to prevent the information from being disclosed or accessed. Usually, this means more than simply labeling a document, for instance, “confidential.” Litigation may be used to hold others accountable for the theft of trade secrets.
Drafting Agreements to Protect Developers
Our firm can assist with drafting certain agreements that protect the rights of software, website, and app developers. One example is the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which are especially useful during the developmental phase of a product. For instance, you may rely on the services of an engineer to help you create your software. An NDA can prevent that individual from misappropriating your creation or stealing its source code.
Developers generally need licensing agreements when it comes time for consumers and others to use their products. An application end-user license agreement is an example. These agreements are essential to inform the user of your rights, notify the user of restrictions and obligations connected with the use of the app, and limit your liability as the developer.
Risk Assessment for Developers
Finally, we can provide risk assessment and legal counsel for individuals and companies that develop code used in software, websites, and applications. This assessment is a critical component of minimizing any potential legal exposure if you use tools, content, and materials provided by third parties. Some examples of how risk assessment can guide product development include:
- Identifying any safety, privacy, legal, or other risks that end users may experience with your product
- Advising you and your organization on the need to minimize any security risks that could, for instance, expose confidential user information to hackers
- Creating a mitigation strategy to respond to any threats to your product that exist now or which may arise in the future
Contact Our Worcester Intellectual Property Attorney
The above is an overview of the various legal services SederLaw offers to developers. When a developer retains our firm, we get to work reviewing the person’s or company’s intellectual portfolio so we can create a customized legal strategy that will best protect their interests and respond aggressively to any threats from third parties. Connect with our Intellectual Property Law team today to learn more.