Developing computer games and off-the-shelf software

Intellectual property in games and software


Innovation is key to the video games and software industry. Securing and protecting your intellectual property (IP) could be essential to the success of your business.

IP can apply to anything that can be legally owned - eg a brand, invention or design. This includes the copyright to your software and all information held on any digital format. For more information, see digital intellectual property and your business.

Your IP is a valuable asset which can:

  • form an essential part of your marketing or branding, including your unique selling point
  • set your business apart from competitors
  • be sold or licensed, providing an important revenue stream
  • be used as security for loans

In addition to ensuring competitors do not steal or infringe your ideas, you should also make sure you are not infringing the IP rights of others. For example, have you used someone else's platform/audio/branding within - or in order to create - your software or game?

You should carry out checks and seek professional advice, where necessary. Invest Northern Ireland can provide IP support for local businesses.

Software licensing

A software licensing agreement protects the author's copyright and IP rights by placing restrictions on the end-user in relation to the usage of the application. The software licence sells the use of the software, not the software itself. Most software is covered by copyright.

If you are considering becoming a software publisher, it is critical that you licence your software very carefully to retain your IP rights and to ensure you are able to generate revenue from your work.

A software licence usually comes in one of three major forms:

  • a proprietary licence
  • a free licence
  • an open software licence

A licence can be an author licence that stipulates how the rights holder wants the software to be used. A developer licence allows the end-user to use a computer program to develop an application, eg for a smart or android phone.

Under the licence, royalties are payable. These are usage-based payments made by the licensee to the licensor for the ongoing use of software or an application.

A proprietary software licence is typically provided with commercial software and allows the user to use a program but the software developer retains ownership of the program and source code. Read about types of software licences for business.

An open source licence makes the source code available for everyone to use. Open source licences are also usually free and allow for modification, redistribution, and commercial use without having to pay the original author. See open source licensing and legal issues.