What Are the Key Steps to Protecting Intellectual Property for a New Software in the UK?

Developing a new software can be an arduous task. You have poured hours of work into coding, perfecting the design, and ensuring the software performs its required function. Therefore, it is crucial that you protect your intellectual property (IP). IP protection will safeguard your hard work from being copied or used without your permission. It will provide your business with legal rights to prevent others from exploiting your innovation. This guide will walk you through the key steps to protect your IP for new software in the UK.

Understanding Intellectual Property Rights

Before we delve into the process of protecting your IP, let’s first understand what ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ really mean. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names and images used in commerce. In the context of software, the intellectual property can include the code you write, the user interface design, and the function the software performs.

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Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights awarded to you by the state, to protect your creation. They allow you to benefit from your work and make a return on your investment. IPR take the form of patents, copyright, trade marks, design rights and more.

Copyright Protection for Software

When we talk about software protection, the first thing that comes to mind is copyright law. Copyright, as a form of IP right, protects the expressions of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. In software, this equates to the protection of your code and the user interface design.

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In the UK, copyright protection is automatically given to the creator when they create the work. This means that you do not need to apply for copyright protection. However, it is prudent to include a copyright notice on your software to remind others that the work is protected. The notice should include the copyright symbol (©), the year of creation, and the name of the copyright owner.

Though copyright protection is automatic, you will find it easier to enforce your rights if you can prove when the work was created. Therefore, keeping evidence of the dates when work is undertaken and completed can be helpful.

Patent Protection for Software

Patent protection is another way to safeguard your intellectual property. Unlike copyright, which protects the expression of ideas, a patent protects the idea or invention itself. However, it’s important to note that software patents are a complex and contentious issue.

In the UK, software is not considered patentable. However, if the software solves a technical problem or creates a technical effect, it could potentially be patented. For example, if your software improves the way a computer runs or makes a process more efficient, it could be considered for a patent.

Applying for a patent is a complicated process and is best done with the help of a patent attorney. It involves submitting a detailed description of the invention and its advantages to the UK Intellectual Property Office. If your application is successful, you will have the exclusive right to use, make or sell your invention for up to 20 years.

Trade Secrets and Confidentiality Agreements

Sometimes, the best way to protect your software’s intellectual property is not to disclose it at all. Certain aspects of your software, such as the algorithm or underlying methodology, may be best protected as trade secrets.

Trade secrets are protected under UK law by the law of confidentiality. In order to protect your trade secrets, you should only disclose them on a ‘need to know’ basis. When disclosure is necessary, it should be done under a confidentiality agreement.

A confidentiality agreement, also known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), is a legal contract between you and the person to whom you are disclosing your trade secret. It stipulates that the information must remain confidential and may not be used or disclosed to others without your permission.

Trademarking Your Software

A trademark is a type of intellectual property that comprises a recognizable sign, design, or expression that distinguishes your software from others. This can be particularly useful if your software has a distinctive name or logo that you want to protect.

Applying for a trademark is done through the UK Intellectual Property Office. The process can take around four months if no objections are raised. Once registered, you have the exclusive right to use your mark, and you can take legal action against anyone who uses it without your permission.

Remember, protecting your intellectual property is not just a matter of law – it’s a matter of business strategy. So take the time to understand these steps, and implement the ones that are most beneficial for your software and your business. In doing so, you are not only protecting your hard work but also ensuring the growth and success of your company.

Utilizing Design Rights on Software

Design rights are another method to consider when aiming to secure your intellectual property in the UK. Essentially, these rights provide protection for the visual design of your software, which includes aspects like layout, user interface, and graphic elements.

These rights are automatically granted upon the creation of a design and do not require an application. However, keep in mind that unregistered rights have limitations – they only last for 15 years from the date of creation or 10 years from when it was first sold. In addition, these rights only protect against direct copying.

To bolster your protection, you can register your design with the UK Intellectual Property Office. This grants you exclusive rights to your design for up to 25 years, provided that you renew it every five years. Registering your design strengthens your legal position in case of a dispute, as it proves that the design belongs to you.

Remember, while design rights are a powerful tool for safeguarding the aesthetics of your software, they do not cover the functional aspects of it. For that, you would need to consider patent protection or protecting it as a trade secret.

Seeking Legal Advice on Intellectual Property

Securing your intellectual property can be a complex process, especially when you’re trying to navigate the nuances of copyright, patents, trade secrets, and design rights. That’s why seeking legal advice can be invaluable.

Engaging with a legal professional who specializes in intellectual property law can provide you with tailored advice concerning your software. They can guide you through the application processes for patents and trademarks, draft confidentiality agreements, and even assist in disputes over intellectual property.

In addition, they can help you develop an IP strategy that aligns with your business goals. This could involve deciding which aspects of your software to patent, which to keep as trade secrets, and how to best leverage your IP for commercial success.

Remember, every piece of software is unique, and therefore its IP protection needs will be too. What worked for one software may not work for yours, so it’s important not to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, get professional advice to ensure you’re making the right decisions for your software and your business.


Securing your intellectual property rights should be a top priority when developing new software. Understanding the different types of intellectual property protection available in the UK – from copyright and patents, to trade secrets, trademarks, and design rights – is the first step.

Recall that while copyright protects the expression of ideas, patents protect the idea itself. Trade secrets are best for proprietary information that gives your software a competitive edge, while trademarks and design rights protect your brand and the visual aspects of your software.

Regardless of the type of protection you choose, it’s always beneficial to seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of IP law. By taking these steps, you not only secure your hard work but also position your software for successful growth in the market. Remember, protecting your intellectual property isn’t just a legal necessity – it’s a strategic move that can contribute to the success of your business.