Know where you stand with intellectual property rules, online businesses urged » SMEInsider

Know where you stand with intellectual property rules, online businesses urged

Businesses starting up online must be aware of intellectual property rules when using social media platforms, warns a legal expert.

In particular, business owners need to protect themselves when using an application programming interface (API) – a set of programming instructions that enable you to access web-based software – because APIs are protected by copyright in the US.


Legal wrangling

This followed a legal battle between Oracle and Google, brought because Google had used Oracle’s API and did not have permission to do so.

According to Shireen Smith, intellectual property (IP) lawyer at London firm AZrights, although a similar ruling has not yet been made in the EU, the US law will affect UK enterprise because most APIs that businesses would use are US based.

As a result, UK businesses may find themselves exposed to intellectual property misuses and should make sure they are protected.


Tech firms have power

Smith said: “The courts ruled that APIs are in fact protected by copyright in the US. According to the US-based digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, this gives tech firms ‘unprecedented and dangerous power’ over developers by making it substantially more difficult for upstarts to create new software.

“The upshot is that you may need permission from the owner of a platform if you want to create another system which is compatible with it, for example Facebook. The legal protection of computer software is a complex and fast-paced area of law.

“Securing a range of intellectual property rights in different elements can combine to provide the most powerful protection as each IP right protects you in subtly different ways and situations.”