Do you need to copyright your new software program?

Perhaps you are a software developer and have left corporate life to start your own business.

At your old company, copyright protection was always handled by the legal department. However, the first offering from your new company is an innovative software program for architects. Should you copyright it?

Copyright explained

A copyright is a type of intellectual property protection that safeguards an original work someone has authored. Examples are novels, poetry, movies, songs, architecture and computer software. Any such work is copyrighted the moment you create it and make it available in a tangible form, which includes visibility through the use of a device or machine, such as a cellphone or computer. One of the most famous copyright cases is the lawsuit Apple filed against Microsoft in 1988 based on disputed visual displays. Microsoft won the lawsuit, which took six years to settle.

Comparing patents, trademarks and copyrights

Other forms of intellectual property include the patent and the trademark. While a patent covers inventions or discoveries, a trademark protects words, phrases or symbols, such as the logo that is an identifier and unique to your company. The National Football League, for example, owns the trademark on the phrase “Super Bowl,” and can fine a bar or restaurant for using those two words in advertising specials they run around the time of the big game.

Submitting your work

If you wish to register your software program officially, you must make a nonreturnable copy and submit it to the United States Copyright Office. In fact, you can register online, which is less expensive than sending it by mail.

Preparing for litigation

Although you do not have to register your software program, you must do so if you ever want to take legal action against someone for copyright infringement. This kind of case is usually complicated, but you can sue for damages and any profits the defendant has made. The new software program for architects is likely the first of many your company will produce, so copyright registration may be a very sound idea.