Should we give intellectual property protection to software?

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jyurkonis | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Software does have some intellectual property protection already.  Just like writing a novel or short story, a program is protected by International Copyright Laws, according to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  No one can use a program written by someone else without getting permission to do so from the original creator.  This protection however, only covers the written code.  It does not prevent someone from writing their own program that duplicates the function and features of the original software as long as their software code is not copied verbatim from the original.

It is possible to apply for a patent for software but this process is very complicated and can be expensive as it usually requires legal assistance from someone familiar with the process.  The main issue with patenting software is that patent law is not international.  Some countries have very little restrictions on copying any intellectual property.

The majority of software written today is created with the use of software libraries, frameworks, and other tools that are either copyrighted by other parties or are covered under a "public domain" licensing agreement.  This software could not realistically be considered "intellectual property" of the author because it is actually a compilation of many authors.  Typically, the pieces of software that are unique, original creations, that meet all of the requirements for patents, are part of systems that are covered under patents for other reasons.  Software used for on-board computers in the Electronic Control Units of automobile engines for example, or software used in the microelectronics of implantable medical devices, would be protected under the patents covering the devices themselves.

In summary, the answer I would give is "yes", some software should be protected as intellectual property, and is - in certain ways.  What is needed mainly are more international laws restricting use of intellectual property.

I hope this helps.  Please see the link I've provided for more detailed information if needed.

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