Open-source software development has slowly but steadily made its way into the mainstream software scene. The most significant appeal of open-source software is that it is cheap and reliable thanks to its open code, which makes finding and correcting flaws much easier than in proprietary software.
Also, open-source software solutions allow people other than the software’s original developers to make iterations or customize the software to their requirements. However, any modifications and iterations must align with the licenses of the software in question.
This guide is a good read if you are into open-source software development or modification but are unsure how their intellectual property rights apply.
IP Rights for Open-Source Software Exist
Open-source software refers to software that is freely available for use, modification, and distribution. They are developed by a community of volunteers who input their knowledge and expertise in a collaborative approach to creating high-quality software that keeps evolving and improving.
It is possible to find the source codes used to create the same software customized to perform very different tasks. However, the free-to-modify nature of open-source software does not mean that developers do not have any rights to their creations.
If you identify any infringements on your open-source software IP rights, your first step should be sending a cease and desist letter to the infringer. You can learn more from Heer Law, a leading IP law firm in Canada, if you want a better understanding of open-source software IP rights.
Here are some IP rights that relate to open-source software that you need to be aware of as an open-source software developer or if you use open-source software.
Copyright law applies to open-source software like other software and creative works of art. Copyrights to the original code belong to the person or entity that created the code. Under normal circumstances, the copyright holder would have exclusive rights to profit from their code.
But in open-source software, the copyright holder grants the rights to users who can make iterations of the software solution. Developers that modify the software may have a copyright to their modification and even sell their software versions.
However, it’s always important to understand software licensing agreements before making modifications to ensure you do not violate the developer’s rights.
Codes used in developing a computer program are not registrable as patents. But there are circumstances where patent protections may apply to the software. A classic example is if the computer code is a new algorithm or a new way of solving problems.
But patenting such an open-source software solution would defeat the purpose of having it as open-source software. However, patenting inventions created using open-source software makes perfect sense.
Trademarks are product or service identifiers that include names, phrases, symbols, or sounds. If the trademarks of open-source software are registered by the original creators of the code used in the open software, it would be illegal to use them to promote your product.
In the same way, it would be illegal for other entities to use your trademarks if you are the original creator of the software.
Some open-source software licenses allow users to use different brand names for their iterations as long as they satisfy the requirements set out in the open-source license. In most cases, the condition is to give proper attribution to the original code developers and make the improvement public under the same license.
Where to Register IPs for Your Open-Source Software
Countries have different approaches to IP laws. The laws also stipulate the governmental bodies tasked with overseeing IP rights registration. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has the constitutional mandate of registering IPs in Canada.
There are two main options for applying for IP registration, through CIPO’s online portal or by visiting their office in person. But you could also register through an agency specializing in IP registration or get the help of an IP lawyer.
The last option is the most preferred since not many people know the legal aspects of IP registration. While it may be costlier than a DIY, you will get through the process with fewer problems and much faster.