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Authors

Francis Hackett

Abstract

There are over eight thousand people in Ireland employed in the software industry by several multinational corporations, including Microsoft, Novell, Lotus and Corel. Although there has not yet been much Irish case law addressing the protection of computer software, there are adequate statutory protections in place. The Directive on the Legal Protection of Computer Programs (“Regulations”) provides copyright protection for all original computer programs. Ideas and underlying principles are not protected by copyright under the Regulations but the English High Court has clarified this general rule by stating detailed ideas may be copyrighted. The Regulations provide some exclusive rights to the owner of a copyrighted computer program that deal with reproduction, alteration, and distribution of computer programs. The Regulations also conform to the concerns of the Commission of the European Communities in regard to competition law. Trademark has been used in the past to protect computer programs, but this practice has been questioned by the High Court of the United Kingdom. “The defining characteristic of a piece of computer software [is] not . . . the medium on which it is recorded, the trade channels through which it passes nor the fact that it controls a computer, but rather the function that it performs.” Trademarks based on a “wide specification of goods” are therefore vulnerable to challenge in the Irish courts. Patent Protection is also available to protect computer programs. Ireland has ratified the European Patent Convention which states that computer programs are generally not patentable, but “if the program in combination with a computer causes the computer to operate in a different way from a technical point of view, the combination may be patentable. Finally, computer programs can be protected in some instances by breach of confidence. If parties owe each other an obligation of confidence, and the information contained within the program is confidential, courts will impose a duty of good faith and only allow information to be used as intended. Although Ireland has not had a lot of case law dealing with computer software, there are statutes in place to address the problems that will arise.