Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Your intellectual property (IP) can be protected by copyrights, trademarks, patents, and licenses.
You may have a product or service that calls for more than one of these IP rights. A software license is a legal instrument that governs the use or redistribution of software. These contracts transfer IP rights from the owner (licensor) to another party who wants to use them (licensee). They can be exclusive – allowing only one licensee – or nonexclusive – granting rights to multiple users. Besides protecting your business’s assets, licenses can generate significant revenue. If you have a product, website, application, or idea that needs to be licensed, Denver Small Business Attorney E.C. Lewis, P.C. will work with you to protect your intellectual property. This post will cover some basics of software licensing.

  1. Before Choosing Your Software License
  2. Ways to License Your Software
  3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

1. Before Choosing Your Software License

If you make your own software program or application, you likely want as many people to use it as possible – legally, that is. But, how do you decipher the billions of pages of information and laws about software copyrights, end-user license agreements (EULAs), other types of licenses, and so on? How do you know for sure what happens and how protected you are once your product is released? These are among the many major considerations, such as who holds the rights to your work, who gets to use it, how much access do they have to your design/code, and what type of license is best for your product. The last thing you want is to set yourself up for trouble. Simple protective measures regarding copyrights and licensing will go a long way, like going more restrictive than liberal in your terms from the start. As a developer, you may have some notion of how you would like the launch of your program or application to play out. The advice of a small business attorney with extensive experience in the information technology sector will help secure your IP and potential profits.

2. Ways to License Your Software

EULAs bind the end-user (licensee) with a valid contract and grant rights to use the software with terms and conditions. Some of these include limitation of liability of the licensor, disclaimer of warranties, choice of applicable law to the contractual relationship, venue for possible disputes, etc. Open-source licenses, like Apache 2.0, GPL, and LGPL, can be viewed as ready-made universal EULA formats. The open-source community is growing with more developers publishing their code online. Here are a few types of licenses.

  • MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) License is an open-source license that allows the user to do as they wish with the software/code as long as they give you proper credit or attribution. You are not held liable if issues arise from the software.
  • Apache License 2.0 is similar to the MIT License, but the end-user cannot use any of the work under your trademark. This gives you patent protection.
  • GPL (General Public License), known as a viral license, is widely used. With this license, anyone can use, distribute, and modify the software. The Lesser GPL (LGPL) is a less viral type, permitting the use of a library in proprietary programs and protecting your code under similar rules to GPL. It does not force any code outside of your own to be released under the same license.
  • Artistic License 2.0 enables users to copy and distribute copies of the software, but changes are not allowed.
  • EPL (Eclipse Public License) allows people to use, modify, copy, and distribute the code and modified versions for free. With an EPL license, anyone distributing the work must grant every recipient a license to any patents that cover the modifications they have made.
  • BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) Licenses are a series of licenses which have varying clauses. The Simplified BSD license and the New BSD license are two GPL compliant licenses. These licenses impose the minimal restrictions on the redistribution of covered software.

These are only a few of the major software licenses out there. Your small business attorney can go over all of the different levels of complexity, restrictions, and benefits among them to determine what is right for you.

3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

When it comes to protecting your IP, software is one of the most licensable. The key to the successfully commercializing your software is to choose the right license in order to generate revenue without giving up rights. Partnering licensing is a way to gain additional support, recognition, or marketing channels. A co-brand license can lend credibility and quickly raise awareness, leading to broader sales. Another partnering strategy is to license out rights to market and distribute your product. This could enable you to enter into global markets you would otherwise not reach. A third example is non-competing field, which is a good alternative if you do not intend to enter certain markets. In this case, you could partner with a larger, established software developer of another product and bundle yours with it. Whichever way you decide to go, it is essential to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. This reinforces your rights, especially if you find yourself in litigation. A small business attorney will be there with you if you ever have to take someone to court.

If you need help with software licensing, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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The Five C’s of Software Licensing

The Five C’s of Software Licensing

Software licensing can be a daunting combination where the perplexing realm of technology meets legal jargon. Defined as legal documents or contracts that govern the use and distribution of software, these licenses provide necessary protection for your business. Without proper licensing, you may be prone to someone stealing your intellectual property, or you may unwittingly commit copyright infringement. As a small business owner, it is essential to understand the importance of software licensing in order to protect your business’s brand or product and to avoid illegally using someone else’s. When the terms and contracts are beyond an IT issue, Attorney Elizabeth Lewis will help you work through it. Here are 5 essential areas of software licensing.

  1. Copyright
  2. Contracts
  3. Codes
  4. Confidentiality
  5. Compliance

1. Copyright

Whether you are a mom and pop store or an expanding enterprise, your intellectual property is as valuable as your merchandise. A lot of work goes into creating marketing concepts, a logo, a business plan, and overall operations/procedures. If you neglect to protect these assets through software copyright, you will be defenseless against others profiting from what you created. Registering your software copyright with the U.S. copyright office reinforces your copyrights, especially if you ever have to take someone to court. A small business attorney will help you determine what aspects of your business – a website, a product, or an idea – need to be protected by a software license.

2. Contracts

No one hires a disgruntled employee, but people can become dissatisfied over time and want to damage your business. There are contracts to safeguard your company from any employees who may try to exploit the knowledge they have accessed while working for you. Non-compete agreements are clauses under which employees cannot create businesses like yours while you employ them or start a similar one for a determined amount of time after they leave your employment; however they are only allowed in certain situations in Colorado so it is important to know if one will really protect you or if you need to use other means as well. Other employment agreements state simply that you own any work that your employees do for you. Confidentiality agreements protect your trade secrets and prohibit others from giving damaging insight into the operations of your business. An attorney will
help you take all of the necessary precautions to protect your intellectual property and represent you in the event of these types of theft.

3. Codes

Open source code licenses allow anyone to use, modify, and share your licensed software. You may not be able to govern every single user’s actions, but you are still protected as the original creator and are entitled to credit for your contributions. These licenses can make it easy for others to share, contribute, and build upon your project without having to obtain special permission. Issues with noncompliance and proper licensing can arise when using open source code licenses. An attorney will help you with these issues as well as any open-source versus proprietary software dilemmas.

4. Confidentiality

Your business’s success depends on your competitive advantage, something you can maintain by protecting your intellectual property. Keeping your trade secrets a secret takes measures, including confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements. Software licenses keep some of your most valuable information – ideas, practices, applications, websites – safely guarded.

5. Compliance

We have all scrolled rapidly to the end of the terms of an agreement and clicked “I agree” without necessarily comprehending or even reading all of the words. As a software user, it is crucial to obtain your software through legal means, know precisely who is allowed to use it and how many copies are covered by the license, and read and understand the license agreement. Many small business owners do not purchase enough copies of software, thinking they can use one copy for everyone. This will inevitably lead to consequences from having your software disabled to facing huge fines or litigation. A small business attorney will ensure you have taken the necessary precautions and represent you in the event of a software licensing violation.

If you need help with software licensing, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

What small business owner wouldn’t love to see a bit of content he or she put up on the web, or a marketing campaign he or she launched on YouTube become known around the world? Especially if that content could generate just the right amount of new business! Everyone likes the idea of their content being shared, but no one wants to see their content stolen. This post will discuss the ways your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons explains what they do:

[Creative Commons is a] digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

You might be thinking, “but I have a copyright symbol in the footer of my website!” In fact, creative work is protected in the United States the moment it is created – it belongs in that instant to the author. But there is a lot more to copyrights and licensing than you might think. When you mark your website with the copyright symbol, as most small business owners do, you are reiterating in effect, that visitors to your site cannot use your content without your express permission. Adding a license to your content, or portions of your content, is a way to define what parts you are willing to share and under what circumstances. If that sharing leads to more business for you, you want to make sharing easy! A copyright, in effect, may have the opposite effect.

Social Sharing of Small Business Website Content

Just a side note – when I say sharing in this context, I am not referring to the share buttons used for social sharing of small business website content that link to social media and allow people to share your content on their social feeds. These types of shares actually belong to the social media site you connected your web site to; in this sense you “released” your ownership of that content in the specific form it takes when shared on the social media site. In terms of licensing, I’m talking about specific creative works of your own, from your site, that people may want to share in their entirety. Examples might include detailed, informative blog posts, infographics, tools or calculators you created, and apps that you authored.

When to Use a Creative Commons License

It’s not hard to determine when to use a Creative Commons license; if you are creating content online and want to see it shared outside of social media, you should probably license it. A Creative Commons license can be in helpful in a couple of ways: First, it provides you with a simple way to license the content so that the intended use is well documented, which protects your legal position. Second, a clearly stated license will offer reassurances to someone who may want to share your content, but would be unwilling to do so if your intentions about sharing are not clearly stated. If you have creations you want circulated on the web, where a thumbs up from someone else has more value than anything you could ever say about your own work, then you may want to use a Creative Commons license. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, once you select and apply a license, your newly licensed content will be included in the Creative Commons repository and can be searched, discovered, used, and shared by people who need content to share and are looking for exactly the type of content you have created! How much will it cost to have your content included? Creative Commons is free, but you have the opportunity to donate.

Which Creative Commons License You Should Choose

As with so many things where there are repercussions, the best answer is… it depends. Which Creative Commons license you should choose is determined by your intentions and situation. But don’t worry, CC has come up with a simple license picker to help you decide on the best license for your particular situation. If you get stuck, use the handy Creative Commons FAQ.

A Creative Commons license isn’t for everyone – but there are benefits in the right situation. If you need help understanding when and if your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license, or have other questions about your intellectual property, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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3 Things to Know Before Starting an Online Business

It seems simple – no lease to sign, no building to maintain or insure, fewer employees to manage. Online is easy, and starting up a new business is as simple as building a website! Only, it’s not. More often than not, I end up helping small business owners with issues they could have avoided if they had sought advice before starting an online business.

Based on the issues I am most often asked to address after the fact, there are three things I would advise a new online startup to understand before jumping in:

  1. What type of business form is correct for my situation?
  2. What type of control am I giving to my web developer?
  3. How will I terminate an advertising and promotions contract?

The Correct Form for an Online Business

The rules governing your information technology company, information services company, or online business are different than a traditional brick-and-mortar business. There are the typical business formation questions; should you form your business as a corporation or LLC, for example. But it is also important to understand the legal implications of having a brick-and-mortar store with an online presence, or even transitioning your brick-and-mortar store to being solely online. And while it may look more affordable to ditch the brick-and-mortar storefront for a website, your agreement with the company that creates and maintains a website for you is in many ways similar to a lease. Signing a contract with a questionable company can cause you just as much grief as bad landlord.

Controlling Your Online Assets

With the growth of the internet and information technologies, more and more businesses are based completely online. An online business can include online advertising, a social media presence, and online sales of physical products, all of which come with their own set of legal ramifications. Whether your business is an information technology business, IT services business, supplements its income with an online store, or is completely online, you will probably be signing contracts with web development firms who will help you build and maintain your website. It is crucial that you understand what you are agreeing to when you allow someone to build a website for you. I hear stories all the time from developers such as:

I was being asked to build a third website for her, after two previous contractors failed to deliver a finished product, or failed to deliver a quality product. When I attempted to set up her new site, I found the previous developer had moved her domain, which she had owned and had control of for many years. She had given them permission to do so, but she didn’t understand that she was giving up control of her URL when she did. In addition, the company she contracted with to build her previous site had been controlling and filtering her email. She spent days on the phone trying to end the contract and get her domain and email back, and she lost much of her email history, and all of her website content in the process.

Unfortunately, this is a typical and frustrating scenario I hear from newcomers to online businesses. Another stumbling block I see small business owners encounter as they enter the online world involves contracts with companies that offer to help with advertising and promotion.

Promoting Your Online Business

Promoting your online business comes with it’s own set of concerns, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to help you. Some contracts tie you to a service regardless of whether or not it performs well for you – in this case, what you don’t know about social media, advertising, and promoting a business online can really hurt you. Again, a trusted advisor who understands internet technologies, and online business promotion can really help here. Until you have some experience and know what works for you, ask someone who does to recommend a company that can do it for you, or train you to do it yourself.

Even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, you will face challenges as you enter the online world and perhaps encounter unscrupulous actors offering to help you launch an online business. An attorney can help you make sure that important assets, such as your domain name, remain in your control. It is also very important that a clear means for you to retain the contents and coding for your website exists, even if you choose to end the relationship with the contractor or company that builds it for you. These, and other concerns can be avoided just by getting a good referral to a reputable firm. An attorney with a strong background in IT and online business practice can guide you to reputable firms, and make sure the contracts you sign are fair.

If you need guidance concerning the formation of your online business, or help reviewing a contract with a web developer or firm offering to promote your business online, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Trademark Use and E-commerce

As e-commerce businesses have taken off, so have more issues arose relating to use of others’ intellectual property. We’ve already talked about how intellectual property like trademarks can be a delicate situation between businesses trying to protect their rights but trying to avoid upsetting their customers.

So-called patent trolling (generally speaking, this is where a company holds patents but doesn’t use them other than to try to get licensing fees from other companies) has been around for a while, but more recently, we have been seeing what could be called a form of trademark trolling. Basically, these are instances of trademark owners bullying other businesses, not really to prevent consumer confusion, but more so to end some kind of competitive business practice they don’t like (usually against direct competitors or companies selling their competitors’ products).

Take a look at this case between Multi Time Machine, Inc. and Amazon. Here, we have a watchmaker, who does not sell its watches on Amazon.com, suing Amazon for presenting consumers who search for their watches on Amazon.com (usually by entering searches like “mtm special ops”) with results of watches that are similar to MTM. (MTM has registered trademarks for MTM Special Ops and MTM Spec Ops.) Additionally, MTM was unhappy that Amazon failed to indicate to these customers that no results were found when searching for MTM products.

Naturally, Amazon wants to have the appearance of a store that has everything someone could want available for sale, and when it doesn’t have exactly what you were looking for, it wants to offer you the closest product to it. The court in this case referenced the situation where someone at a restaurant asks for a Coke and is instead offered a Pepsi. After all, is the situation in this case that different from walking into a department store and asking for a particular brand watch and the salesperson directing you to similar watches? Whether they tell you they don’t have that specific brand or not, you would probably figure it out pretty quickly by the absence of the brand name you were looking for on the products you were shown and the existence of different brand names in their place. Or perhaps the internet is different from this example, and companies like Amazon are trying to confuse customers into purchasing their alternatives under the guise of being made by MTM. Either way, the primary concern in trademark law is whether or not there is a likelihood of consumers being confused.

Ultimately, the court did not find MTM’s arguments persuasive and determined that there was no likelihood of confusion between MTM’s products and Amazon’s alternative offerings as search results. However, MTM appealed the case to the 9th Circuit, who recently heard oral argument on the matter.

Trademark rights are designed to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace. We don’t want consumers to be confused about who makes the product they are buying, so we don’t let companies use the same or confusingly similar names on their products, especially if they are selling similar products.

If your business is thinking about using another company’s trademark, even for comparative or other purposes, it is a good idea to talk it over with a knowledgeable attorney. If you need help regarding trademarks, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis, at 720-258-6647 or email her at elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.