What is Software Law?

R. Kimball

Software law supports software transactions and protects intellectual property included within the software itself. Transactions generally include licensing, support, and development. Software is protected by a variety of intellectual property rights.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

License agreements for software can be simple contracts or detailed agreements, usually depending upon the value of the transaction. A consumer may download an application from the Internet and agree to the terms of the software license agreement by clicking agreement terms online. These license agreements are not negotiable. The consumer must accept the terms if he or she wants to license the software.

Software law covers larger software licensing transactions negotiated between parties. These parties may begin with a base agreement provided by the software vendor, but the final agreement is one that has been modified by both parties to fit the specific transaction. Such agreements include ownership terms and specific rights granted to the licensee by the licensor. The degree of change from the original base contract depends somewhat upon the amount of customization to the software by the software vendor for the licensee.

Some software transactions include modifications to the original software by the vendor. These modifications might be a part of the software license agreement or might be covered by a separate software development agreement. Other software transactions might be for specific proprietary software. The agreements that delineate these transactions will designate who owns this newly developed software and which party receives a license. The parties must consider various aspects of software law as they negotiate these transactions.

Software support agreements set forth the parameters under which the software vendor is to provide support. These agreements vary based upon the cost of the underlying software and the degree of customization. Inexpensive software generally has a limited amount of support. More customized or expensive software has very specific support terms.

Support agreements may include different levels of support. The base level is provided during business hours. The next level of support may be provided outside of business hours, and there may be an incremental charge. Software law addresses the parameters under which this support is provided to the customer.

Copyright protection is provided to most software applications. Some software applications might receive patent protection. There are specific protection areas that might cover certain types of software. Software law protections vary by country. Negotiating a software license between two international clients further complicates the contracts as each country's laws, regulations, and treaties must be considered as the parties determine specific rights granted within these agreements.

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