Software Copyright Protection for Technology Startups

During the early stages of research and development (R&D) in technology startups and software publishing ventures, entrepreneurs, tech startups, and innovation departments in larger companies design and develop new software that becomes central to the companies website and mobile application publishing strategy and business model.  In other words, this new software is the stock-in-trade of the business, and its legal protection is critical.

Copyright Protection of Software Based Tech Startups

Generally, computer programs consisting of data, instructions, algorithms, and other content are afforded copyright protection in the United States to the extent they are original because they are considered literary content that is part of copyright protected subject matter under section 102 of the Act. Mobile application developers frequently rely on Federal U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17 of the United States Code, to prevent unauthorized copying of their website and mobile applications.

Source: U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright law protects intellectual property in mobile applications and websites differently than trademark rights or patent registrations because copyright protection only attaches to original works of authorship, not a brand name (trademark) or a new invention (patent). For mobile application publishers and software developers in the technology ecosystem, federal copyright law protection applies to original source code text, copy, photographs, graphic designs, videos, sound recordings, music, and other Section 102 rights enumerated in Title 17 USC, all or some of which may be imbedded in a mobile application,  website, social media platform, or various other tech platforms in industry ranging from gaming to dating to medical procedures, crowdfunding, and fintech. But copyright protection only applies to original works of authorship, non-original works, such as facts, are generally considered unprotected. Perhaps further blurring the line between protected and unprotected content, the Supreme Court opened the door for copyright protection facts under certain conditions, for example where there is originality in the selection, arrangement and coordination of otherwise unprotected content. See Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) (link to pdf of opinion).

Intellectual Property Protection Strategy for Technology Startups and Software Publishers

Entrepreneurs looking to legally protect exclusive rights to their inventions and the unique elements of mobile application startups, SAAS (software-as-a-services) or PAAS (Platform-as-a-services) products will evaluate the level of protection that copyright law affords their inventions and innovations. The scope of protection to the company’s intellectual property, its stock-in-trade, often relies on intellectual property attorneys with knowledge of copyright, trademark, and patent law. For tech startups, the best technology startup attorney and intellectual property lawyer, preferably experienced in the practical considerations and fluidity of tech startup businesses, will apply a blend of intellectual property protection law, including U.S. Copyright Law, U.S. Trademark Law, U.S. Patent Law, federal and common law trade secret protection, confidentiality agreements, and other contract consultation to maximize protection of all intellectual property assets in the company’s portfolio.

Author: David N. Sharifi, Esq. is a Los Angeles based intellectual property attorney and technology startup consultant with focuses in entertainment law, emerging technologies, federal trademark registration, and the “Internet of Things”. David has been recognized as one of the Top 30 Most Influential Attorneys in Digital Media and E-Commerce Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal. Office: Ph: 310-751-0181;

The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship. All trademarks are the property of L.A. Tech & Media Law Firm or their respective owners. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. 

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