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How to legally protect server configuration

As an IP/IT lawyer, one of the most frequent problems faced is correctly understanding a client’s business model and the technical resources being used. Often enough, the content of a copyright assignment or works-for-hire agreement is relatively standard (or, at least, may be customized quite easily)…if a bridge is created between a developer’s technical mind and the legal transposition of the activity.

Transforming a highly technical product or service in a layman’s terminology, in order to make an agreement as accesible as it may be, is almost always an uphill battle – and I myself am constantly trying to understand how to better protect the added value that IT innovation brings to the table. But don’t sweat it, I will not engage in writing source code (for the time being J).

There’s no secret that technology advances occur at break-neck speed, the discovery ladder becomes higher and higher, and Internet usage (and, more recently, cloud computing) facilitate instant exchange of information and simple sharing of resources. This last part is connected, since its very inception, specifically to the use of servers – computers and relevant software to go with it, that give access to various resources for other client-computers inside a network. Basically, the server is the „heart” of any intensive IT infrastructure inside a company, and this sharing of resources has enabled, among others, the startup tech boom.

Considering the importance of a server, several methods and configuration algorithms are used to satisfy the infrastructure needs of a company – and servers become very important assets. But how can we protect a server configuration from a legal point of view?

(From the outset, I note that this is a general framework of how a server configuration may be protected – variations may occur from country to country, depending on the legislation enacted locally.)

To start, a difference should be made between a server from a hardware perspective, and server-type software, facilitating the sharing of other software in itself.

In case of the configuration of the hardware server, the added value brought by an IT network admin is different depending on the needs a certain network might have. Depending on these, certain regular components (RAM, processor speed and the likes) of the server computer will have certain specifications, and the final configuration may be easily reviewed by taking a look at certain services on the operating system. The ennumeration of the server configuration found there could very well be protected by copyright, with one debatable limitation: a hardware system usually recognises automatically any new mounted elements or canhes within its configuration – or, copyright exists so as to protect the added value that a human mind’s idea has when placed on a device or otherwise made apparent, so these automatic updates that the system arrives at are not necessarily the per-se work of the author. To make matters more simple, this hardware server configuration could be edited in separate document, where the IT admin may detail more of his/her actual input in setting-up the server.

Let’s not rule out that a really zealous IT guy may also arrange hardware resources in a way that leads to a patentable result (i.e. the configuration is technically innovative compared to all other configurations up to that point); in such a case, after careful scrutiny, a request for a patent could also be filed with the relevant authority. This is however a situation which is difficult to conceive, at least from an utility point of view, especially nowadays when software is used more and more frequently in a SaaS environment, and innovations on the configuration side of servers are not that frequent. That is not to say that, for instance, filing for a patent with an internationally-renowned authority such as the USPTO may not have some weight in the valuation of a company’s assets.

From a software perspective, the type of applications that are being shared among computers have led to various types of servers, from web (used to access the Internet via HTTP), e-mail or database servers, even servers that allow usage of IM apps. Basically, any type of software resource is shareable, and for each, there exist various suppliers of sharing solutions which, again, need configuration – this entails more or less some degree of effort in using a tutorial, which means that there’s less input on part of the one making the installation. But, regardless of this, the configuration results are stored in various files, various source-code languages, which may be edited and modified. In other words, configuring server software usually means writing source-code. Source-code is in some parts regulated the same as software and, as a result, is protectable through copyright. In any case, thorough documentation of any changes brought to source-code should be stored safely, with the relevant level of detail.

Any other possible ways that server configuration got protected in practice? Let us know in the comments.

Tag(s) : #opinions

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