Can Computer Software Be Copyrighted and Patented in USA?

Tyler Yates

Computer software has become an integral part of our lives, from the operating systems that run on our laptops to the mobile applications that we use every day. With the advancements in technology and the increasing demand for software programs, a question arises: can computer software be copyrighted and patented in the USA?

What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal right that grants authors of original works exclusive rights to control the use and distribution of their work. In the context of computer software, copyright law protects the source code, object code, and user interface of software programs.

Source code refers to the human-readable instructions that are written in a programming language such as Java or Python. Object code, on the other hand, refers to the machine-readable instructions that are generated by a compiler from source code. User interface includes all aspects of how users interact with software programs, including menus, buttons, icons, and graphics.

Can computer software be copyrighted?
Yes, computer software can be copyrighted under US law. The Copyright Act of 1976 provides protection for “original works of authorship,” which includes literary works such as software programs. As long as the software program is original and fixed in a tangible medium (such as written down or saved on a hard drive), it can be protected by copyright law.

However, it’s important to note that copyright protection only extends to the expression of an idea and not to the idea itself. This means that if two programmers write different source codes for similar functionalities, both codes can be copyrighted even though they serve similar purposes.

What is patent?
A patent is a legal right granted by the US government to inventors for new and useful inventions. In the context of computer software, patents protect new algorithms or methods used in writing software programs.

Can computer software be patented?
Yes, computer software can be patented in the US provided that it meets certain criteria. The invention must be novel, non-obvious, and have a specific utility. In the context of software, it means that the algorithm or method used in the software program must be new and not obvious to someone skilled in the field.

However, not all types of software can be patented. For example, pure business methods or mathematical formulas cannot be patented. Additionally, some types of software may fall under the category of abstract ideas which are not eligible for patent protection.

In conclusion, computer software can be protected by both copyright and patent law in the United States. Copyright law protects the expression of an idea while patent law protects new and useful inventions.

As technology continues to evolve, so does intellectual property law and its application to computer software. Therefore, it’s essential for anyone who creates or uses software programs to stay informed about their legal rights and responsibilities.