IP Protection for Computer Software: Leveraging Copyright, Trade Secrets, Trademarks, Design and Utility Patents

Evaluating the Protection Options, Weighing the Benefits and Risks

Recording of a 90-minute premium CLE webinar with Q&A

Conducted on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Recorded event now available

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Course Materials

This CLE course will guide IP counsel in determining which form of IP protection is the optimal mode for software. The panel will examine the pros and cons of each avenue and how developers and their counsel can best utilize the IP protection available.


Utility patent protection was thought to be the most effective way to protect software before the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank substantially limited the patentability of software. Some computer-related inventions are patentable, but it is difficult. Counsel to software developers are looking to other forms of IP protection to supplement or substitute for the limited utility patent rights that may or may not be available.

Trade secrets are often considered an appropriate alternative to utility patents. The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 strengthened the ability to protect trade secrets from misappropriation by creating a federal cause of action. Protecting software as a trade secret is not always practical because the code is readily reviewable.

Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, among other categories. However, a Federal Circuit court opinion revived interest in using copyright law to protect computer software. Oracle America Inc. v. Google Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2014) held Google's copying of the structure, sequence, and organization (SSO) as part of its program from Oracle could be copyright infringement.

Developers and their counsel also turn to design patents and trademarks to protect various aspects of software. Counsel must understand the pros and cons of each mode of protection to guide their clients in choosing among options that will best protect the inventions.

Listen as our authoritative panel examines the challenges for software developers and their counsel in protecting computer software. The panel will explore copyrights, trade secrets, trademarks, and design patents. The panel will also discuss the ability to safeguard software using patents after the Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. The panel will address the challenges of each avenue for protection and how developers and their counsel can best utilize the IP protection available.



  1. Challenges in protecting computer software
  2. Leveraging IP protection available
    1. Patents post-Alice Corp.
    2. Copyrights
    3. Trade secrets
    4. Trademarks
    5. Design
  3. Best practices
    1. Choosing between different options to protect software
    2. Implications of the choice


The panel will review these and other noteworthy issues:

  • What are the hurdles to obtain copyright protection for software? To obtain patent protection?
  • What are the factors for counsel when choosing a specific form of IP to protect software?
  • What are the pros and cons of each mode of IP protection?


Drummond Hansen, Melody
Melody Drummond Hansen

O'Melveny & Myers

Ms. Drummond Hansen is an experienced litigator, having tried cases in federal and state courts, the U.S. International...  |  Read More

Wilmot, Matthew
Matthew R. Wilmot

Stoel Rives

Mr. Wilmot is a Partner in the firm’s Technology and Intellectual Property Group, where he focuses on the...  |  Read More

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