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I have seen that Google has some patents on their Toolbar, and also has some copyrighted software. Which is a better option to protect an idea? Can I copyright my own Open Source project?

Personally, I am a student and want to protect my idea, which I am implementing at the moment. I don’t have much to pay, but I want to be able to talk about it to someone.

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See this question for related copyright vs patent information: patents.stackexchange.com/questions/4635/… –  Ron J. Sep 26 '13 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

Copyright covers original expression. If you wrote your own original computer program, whether open source or not, it is a copyrighted work, similar to a painting, novel or music recording.

Copyright protects expression, not ideas. If an idea is patented, then all expressions of that idea, whether or original or not, infringe on that patent, unless they are expressions by the patent holder or a licensee.

If an algorithm is patented, then any unlicensed third-party implementation of that algorithm infringes on the patent, even though, paradoxically, the developer maintains the copyright.

An idea which is not patented can be borrowed by anyone and expressed in their own work.

If you think you have an idea which is patentable, it behooves you to keep it a secret. If, prior to obtaining a patent, you publish an idea so that it passes into use, you may lose eligibility to have it patented, at least in some countries. For instance, take a look at this sciencemag.com article entitled "Patent First, Publish Later: How Not to Ruin Your Chances of Winning a Patent" which claims that:

"According to U.S. law, a patent cannot be obtained if an invention was previously known or used by other people in the U.S., or was already patented or published anywhere in the world. Furthermore, publicly using or selling an invention more than 1 year prior to filing a patent application completely bars you from ever winning a patent on that invention."

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Technically "algorithms" are not patentable, but "system and methods" are patentable, which are basically algorithms. –  Gary Drocella Aug 20 at 18:00

If you released your software to the Open Source Community, you did it under a license.

That license grants certain rights which would prevent you from patenting it now.

You should investigate what license you choose, for instance if you uploaded this project to http://www.github.com

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