Difference Between Patents and Copyrights. Can You Protect the Idea Behind Your Website?

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Difference Between Patents and Copyrights. Can You Protect the Idea Behind Your Website?

Thousands of people have this question in their minds. The answer, however, is disappointing. You cannot protect the ‘idea’ behind your website. But you can protect the design, the content and the code of your website.

Let’s deal with this right away. First, the basics. Notions of copyright and patent and the protection afforded by them can be confusing and misleading.

patentsA patent is given on an invention.

A copyright is given on content (text, images, code).

Can a mere idea be protected via a patent? No!

Can a mere idea be protected via a copyright? No!

It is pertinent to know, first and foremost, whether you need a copyright registration or patent registration.

An “invention” according to the Patents Act means a new product or process involving an inventive step (such that the invention involves a technical advance and/or economic significance and is not obvious to a person skilled in that field) and capable of industrial application (the invention should be capable of being made or used in an industry).

The concept of Computer Related Inventions in India is undergoing a thorough check and for now only draft guidelines can be used as a reference. (More on that later)

A copyright on the other hand is granted to works, including literary and artistic works.

Literary works include computer programmes, tables and compilations including computer literary databases. Any other type of content including text and images is of course copyrightable.

So, you can copyright the design of your website, the code that runs the website, but you can’t copyright the idea behind it.

How to get a copyright over your content/code?

It is not mandatory to register for a copyright. A copyright is granted as soon as the work is fixed/published.

To be granted a copyright, the work just needs to be ‘fixed’ in some material form. For example if you write on a piece of paper, the work is ‘fixed’!

Publication means that means making a work is available to the public by issue of copies or by communicating the work to the public. The date of publication is important because decides the duration of the copyright.

So when your site is ‘live’, both the code and the content get a ‘copyright’.

A caveat here: Though copyright registration is not mandatory for a work, it is advisable that you get it done. Getting a copyright over your work is important because it acts:

  • as a notice to the world about the date of the creation of the work and
  • a declaration of your being the owner of the work.

Outside of the field of Intellectual Property law, if you want to protect an idea that you have discussed with a prospective buyer, partner, developer or employer then you can enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement or a Confidentiality Agreement beforehand.

With an NDA the ‘other’ person is under a contractual obligation to not speak about your idea and if he/she does so, you can enforce damages against him/her.

However, there must be an unequivocal promise on the part of the other person and there must be an acceptance of that promise. The conditions laid down in the contract must be clear and straightforward. Vague contracts cannot be enforced in a court of law.

That’s about it for now.

Queries and questions are welcome!

[Written by Veera Mahuli and Tanuj Kalia of vakilsearch, an online legal solutions provider.]

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