Being a developer of software is a great idea, but knowing where to draw your intellectual property rights is a greater idea. As a developer in Africa, intellectual property rights (IPR) are barely understood most especially when it relates to abstract concepts such as coding and programming. There are three major forms of IPR, these include: copyright, trademarks, and patents (The Trio). The Trio act as protective agents to your products. Let me take you down the hall of definition on what these concepts are about.

Copyright protects original works created in a fixed form including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works such as software. Bringing it home as a developer, for instance, if you develop any piece of software that determines the quality of concrete used to build a house, the law automatically imbues in you some form of right in this project developed.

Trademarks protects words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, the software developed for determining the quality of concrete is still a good example and you have decided to give the software an appellation: ‘Solid Bricks’, the trademark rights protected is the name: Solid Bricks.

Patents are rights granted to an inventor which allows them to exclude all others from making, using, or selling their invention for a certain number of years depending on the jurisdiction, for instance if the software that determines the quality of concrete used to build a house is a novel one, then the law will protect this idea for being novel.

For a software developer, one of the most important types of intellectual property is the copyright, which gives its owner the exclusive right to copy, sell, distribute or adapt a piece of work. Without copyrights – which are guaranteed by the laws– anyone could resell or modify your software at will.

As the possessor of a copyrighted software program, you have the special rights to duplicate, modify and share the software you have generated. Copyright laws protect your software’s source and object code, as well as original user interface elements. So, if anyone else tries to copy, sell or alter your software, they are in desecration of your copyright, and could be responsible for damages or legal penalties. The amazing thing about copyrights is that you do not need to file an application for registration of your copyright unlike the latter of trademarks and patents. Copyright is the most important, yet its repository of rights is instant; however to come under this protection you work must be original.

Notwithstanding, some users of your product may not know it is copyright fortified. How do you get your users to relate with this? An end-user license agreement does the job, informing users that the software is protected by copyright laws as well as intellectual property laws and treaties.

If you decide to sell your software product outright to another company, you will need to legally transfer the copyright. A software copyright assignment agreement documents that the software copyright has been assigned to another party, and lets you retain specific rights that you specify, such as trade secrets and background technology. This type of agreement also protects you from any future liability related to the software and releases you from any responsibility for providing training or instruction regarding its use. It is very important that a legal practitioner in your jurisdiction drafts this for you, as the nature of your rights are extremely jurisdictional.

Adedoyin Fadare, Esq

Specializes in Artificial Intelligence and Technology Law in Nigeria