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From what I know, I can legally protect my software source code from being used elsewhere (even in a modified form), with an appropriate software license. This requires no long legal process; I just have to include the license in a few places.

At first glance this process seems sound to me; I don't see a need for a patent because it seems to accomplish the same thing via a longer process. On thinking a bit more, it is evident that licensing and patents are different1, but I'm unclear on how. Could someone explain this?

1. This may be a bit broad. In such a case it is OK if the scope is limited to software only.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

When you provide a license you are giving someone particular rights to something you own. First you need to own something before you have anything to licence to others. In the context of your question you are licensing your copyright. Copyright is automatic as soon as someone writes or draws something original. It only covers that particular "expression" and derivative works. It does not cover functionality or ideas.

Patents do cover functionality. Patent rights can also be licensed. Your copyright does not protect you from an independently developed implementation but a patent might. There are those who think "software patents" should not exist and the industry should rely on copyrights alone

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Ah, makes sense (I'll wait for more answers before accepting). So licensing is more for the back end, while you patent the functionality aspect of the front end. Licensing says "don't steal my code", patenting says "don't make a product like this" or "don't steal my design". Right? – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 17:15
It isn't "licensing" as compared to patents. It is copyright rights compared to patent rights. Both can be licensed and both can be used to stop unlicensed use. – George White Jun 9 '13 at 18:29
Ah, I see. So a license basically says "I have rights to this code, here is what you can do with it without my permission:"? – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 18:33
Yes. It says "I have copyright rights to this code and this is what you . . ." – George White Jun 9 '13 at 18:41
Thanks, it's much clearer now! :) – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 18:45

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