What Kind of Intellectual Property Can Protect Computer Software?

Patrick Burnett

In today’s digital age, computer software has become a crucial part of our daily lives. It is used in various industries like health care, finance, education, and entertainment.

The software industry is highly competitive and innovative. Hence, it’s essential to protect the intellectual property rights of the creators of computer software. Intellectual property law provides several options for protecting computer software, including patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.


Patents are one of the most common forms of intellectual property protection for computer software. A patent gives an inventor exclusive rights to prevent others from using or selling their invention for a specific period, usually 20 years from the date of filing. Patents can be granted for novel and non-obvious inventions that have practical applications.

In the context of computer software, patent protection can be given to innovative algorithms or methods that improve the functioning of a computer system or process data more efficiently. For instance, Google’s PageRank algorithm is patented as it was a new way to rank websites in search engines.


Copyrights provide protection to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. In terms of computer software, it protects source code and object code written by programmers. Copyrights give creators exclusive rights to reproduce their work or create derivative works from it.

The source code is protected as soon as it’s created in a tangible form like on paper or saved in a file on a computer system. Creators don’t need to register their copyright with the government as copyright protection is granted automatically upon creation.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is information that gives an enterprise an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it. In the context of computer software, trade secrets can include proprietary algorithms or methods used to operate a program.

Unlike patents and copyrights that provide public disclosure of protected material, trade secrets are kept confidential. The creator must take reasonable steps to keep the information a secret, such as using non-disclosure agreements and restricting access to the information.


In conclusion, computer software is an essential aspect of our digital world. Protecting the intellectual property rights of creators is crucial for innovation and competition in the software industry.

Patents, copyrights, and trade secrets provide different forms of protection for computer software. Creators must understand their rights and seek legal advice to determine which form of protection is most suitable for their work.