Intellectual Property Rights

Software Engineering

Intellectual Property

  • An expression of ideas

    • Brand

    • Invention

    • Design

    • Song

    • Computer Program

  • Governed by laws concerned with the control about:

    • who has access to your ideas

    • what they can do with your ideas

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)


  • Is concerned with the right to copy something

    • The ‘something’ is known as the ‘work’

      • literary works, including novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, song lyrics, newspaper articles and some types of databases

      • dramatic works, including dance / mime

      • musical works

      • artistic works, including paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos

      • layouts / typographical arrangements used to publish a work (e.g. a book)

      • recordings of a work (e.g. sound / film)

      • broadcasts of a work (e.g. radio show)


  • Automatic right

    • Best to be sure

      • Copyright $\copyright$ $<$company / your name$>$ $<$year it was written$>$
  • Last for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author


  • It protects:

    • Code (including comments)

      • large / small

      • Full suite of programs

      • Fix of a bug

      • Stored on a disc / server

      • Available for download

      • Any language (high / low level)

    • Documentation

      • Comments in the code

      • Manuals

    • Packaging (may be covered by other rights as well)


  • Owner of the copyright

    • Initial author(s)

    • Employer (e.g. commissioned work)

  • Licences (making money from your copyright)

  • Transfer of copyright

    • Must be done in writing

Software Copyright

  • Copyright Regulations:

    • EU Directive on the Protection of Computer Programs 1991
  • What an individual (who has the program licence) can do:

    • Make copies / backup of a program

      • only for own use
    • Alter the program if necessary

      • e.g. to correct errors
    • Decompile if necessary

      • to ensure it operates with another program

      • the results of the de-compilation cannot be used for other purposes

Copyright infringement (software piracy)

  • Primary Infringement of the Copyright

    • Also applies if done unintentionally

    • When an individual breaches the exclusive rights of the owner

      • Do any of the following without the copyright owner’s permission: copy / use / sell / adapt the program
    • Civil Court

      • Compensation for damages
  • Secondary Infringement of the Copyright

    • Only intentional infringement

    • When business breaches the exclusive rights of the owner

      • Using / selling unlicensed copies of software products
    • Criminal Court

      • Substantial fines, imprisonment, confiscation of copying equipment

Special case for Databases

  • Copyright applies when:

    • Contents are original

    • Money and effort were required

      • geographical data
  • Database Right (

    • regulation introduced in 1997

    • if there has been “substantial” investment in obtaining / verifying / presenting the contents of the database

    • prevents the reuse / extraction of all / a substantial part of the database

    • lasts for up to 15 years

Registered Designs

  • Gives exclusive rights to the look and appearance of a product

    • others cannot make / offer / market / import / export your design

    • in the UK up to 25 years

  • Protects the overall visual appearance of an object (3-dimensional and 2-dimensional)

    • Lines, contours, colour, texture, patterns / ornamentation
  • To be registered a design must be:

    • original: not already known

    • Unique: overall impression is that it is different from any other known design

  • Protection is limited to a geographical region

    • UK, Europe

Design Rights

  • The specific legal protection available to unregistered designs in the UK

  • Internal and external shape of an original design

    • only its 3-dimensional shape

    • no protection for any 2-dimensional parts (e.g. surface patterns)

  • Protection will last

    • 10 years from when the product is first marketed or

    • 15 years from when it was created (whichever is earlier)

  • Limited to the UK only


  • Symbol distinguishing some company’s goods and services from those of the competitors in a particular geographic area

    • But more recently will include a word rather than an icon

      • Apple

      • Microsoft, Windows, Office 365

  • Must be:

    • Distinctive

    • Not descriptive of the goods or services


Trade marks may not be registered if they:

  • describe your goods / services or any of their characteristics

  • are not distinctive

  • are 3 dimensional shapes

  • are specially protected emblems

  • are offensive

  • are against the law, e.g. promoting illegal drugs

  • are deceptive: there should be nothing in the mark which would lead the public to think that your goods and services have a quality which they do not

The 1994 Trade Marks Act makes it an offence to:

  • apply an unauthorized registered trademark to goods

    • or the packaging of those goods

    • sell / offer for sale / hire goods that bear an unauthorised trademark

    • import / export goods that bear an unauthorised trademark

    • have in the course of business goods for sale / hire bearing unauthorized trademark

  • infringement punishable (by the criminal office)

    • with fine or up to 2 years imprisonment

    • civil proceeding may also take place as plaintiff may want damages (compensation)

  • Trade marks cases:

Domain names