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Practical advice for protecting software

27 March 2015

In addition to protecting software functionality through obtaining patents, it is also advisable to take the following steps to help deter and or prove copying of your code:

• Machine code distribution
The distribution only of machine code executed directly by a computer’s processor avoids the need to present higher level code that is more readily understood and manipulated.

• Mark Copyright
Including the copyright mark: ©, the full legal name of the company and the year is a good way to bring to attention the existence and ownership of copyright. Marking, however, is not essential for copyright to exist, for that details of the coders and copies of versions of code should be stored securely for proof of original creation at a later date.

• Deposits/escrow
It is advantageous to store versions of source code with a third party. The third party can not only safely store the software and associated information, such as authorship details, but can also provide evidence of the date at which the software was recorded.

• Embed information
Embedding particular information in code that would not be chosen for any obvious reason is a way of tracking if the code has been directly copied. For example, a particular section of code could be given a header based on a family name – direct copying of the name would then be hard to explain – similar to cartographers putting a church having a spire rather than the actual tower on their maps to highlight copies.

• Secret commands and dummy routines
Routines can be included that give secret responses to an undocumented set of commands, for example. Such ‘Easter Eggs’ can be included as a signature that identifies the creator and would simply not otherwise have been included, thereby providing evidence of direct copying. Similarly dummy routines that have no real functionality can be included for similar effect.


This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Withers & Rogers LLP, March 2015