Intellectual property for software is computer code or software protected by law under either a copyright, trademark, trade secret, or software patent. When you treat your software as intellectual property, you have more control over who gets to use it and how it gets to the public. Otherwise, people might use it without permission, and you’ll lose the chance to get paid when people use your software. In extreme cases, you might lose the right to use software you created.
Software copyrights protect the owner against word-for-word copying by other parties. Copyright holders also retain the ability to make and sell copies of the software or create derivative works. If you want to create a process, like the how software functions, you need a patent. Patents protect systems, functions, and solutions. There are two types of patents: utility and design. Utility protects what the software does; design protects any decorative part of your software. What this means is that another party can’t create a software program with different code that does what your software does.
Read about The Spectator Who Threw a Wrench in the Waymo/Uber Lawsuit, Wired Magazine, December 2017
Open Source Licenses
Open source software is software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.
“Source code” is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or”application”—works. Programmers who have access to a computer program’s source code can improve that program by adding features to it or fixing parts that don’t always work correctly.
Some software has source code that only the person, team, or organization who created it—and maintains exclusive control over it—can modify. People call this kind of software “proprietary” or “closed source” software.
Only the original authors of proprietary software can legally copy, inspect, and alter that software. And in order to use proprietary software, computer users must agree (usually by signing a license displayed the first time they run this software) that they will not do anything with the software that the software’s authors have not expressly permitted. Microsoft Office andAdobe Photoshop are examples of proprietary software.
Open source software is different. Its authors make its source code available to others who would like to view that code, copy it, learn from it, alter it, or share it. LibreOffice and the GNU Image Manipulation Program are examples of open source software.
As they do with proprietary software, users must accept the terms of a license when they use open source software—but the legal terms of open source licenses differ dramatically from those of proprietary licenses.
Open source licenses affect the way people can use, study, modify, and distribute software. In general, open source licenses grant computer users permission to use open source software for any purpose they wish. Some open source licenses—what some people call “copyleft” licenses—stipulate that anyone who releases a modified open source program must also release the source code for that program alongside it. Moreover, some open source licenses stipulate that anyone who alters and shares a program with others must also share that program’s source code without charging a licensing fee for it.By design, open source software licenses promote collaboration and sharing because they permit other people to make modifications to source code and incorporate those changes into their own projects. They encourage computer programmers to access, view, and modify open source software whenever they like, as long as they let others do the same when they share their work.