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Source Code Copying

Posted: 15-Jun-2015 16:46:00
Author: Chris Raske


IT disputes pose a number of issues in law largely because it is ever-changing and fluid, whereas laws are old and rigid. An issue that crops up fairly often is copyright infringement relating to source code.

For example...

Someone will code a mathematical formula into a piece of software for one company, leave for a competing firm, and then write some identical code for them. The original employer will argue that this is copyright infringement, whereas the new employer (or perhaps the employee themselves) will say that any similarities are simply due to the fact that there is only one way to code that forumla into the software.

This is a tricky circumstance...

Because computer software falls under literary copyright in the UK but, as a general rule, mathematical formulas are not subject to intellectual property law.

A ha!

I hear you say as you come to the obvious conclusion that it is not the formula itself which is intended to be the subject of intellectual property law, but the source code of which it is part. This is largely true, but not quite so simple. It is absolutely possible that there may be only one way to code that formula into a piece of software. Where this is the case, a different programmer (or the same programmer working for a different company) may come up with exactly the same implementations without actually having copied it.


Just to add a little more inconvenience to the subject, the fact that there is only one way to code a formula does not mean that it wasn't copied. Often we find evidence that large sections of code have been electronically copied into one program from another, despite the fact that there may be only one way to implement a formula.

To sum up, a typical scenario is...

'Bob' wrote some code while he worked for SomePlace Ltd. Then he left and went to work at SomeOtherPlace Ltd. His job was pretty much the same so he used the code from his previous job. SomePlace Ltd says Bob must have copied the code from the original work he did for them, but SomeOtherPlace Ltd says it is only identical becasue there is only one way to implement a given formula. SomePlace Ltd is still suspicious and hires IT Group to find out the truth.

We accept everything SomeOtherPlace Ltd has said relating to mathematical implementation, but use our investigation skills in complete source code analysis and find the code-sets are identical. A big case of 'come on now, tell the truth' ensues...

For more information about IT Group and our intellectual property rights service, contact us on 0845 226 0331 or email

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