The term "Software" is not used in the Swiss Federal Act on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights (Swiss Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act; [CRA]). Basically the term "Software" is understood by a majority of the doctrine as generic term summarising the computer program as well as the development and user documentations. Computer programs mainly enjoy copyright protection. According to the CRA, computer programs shall also be deemed works (Article 2 para. 3 CRA). The term "computer program" again only would cover the source and object code of a program, as well as its documentation on the development of the program (development documentation). Pursuant to the majority of the doctrine the user documentation (user manuals) are not considered belonging to the computer programs. However, user manuals fulfilling the legal requirements may enjoy copyright protection as linguistic works (Article 2 para. 2 lit. a CRA).

There are no formal requirements for copyright protection.

The CRA and the Ordinance on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights (CRO) contain special clauses for computer programs listed as follows:

  • Exclusive right to let (Art. 10 para. 3 CRA; Art. 13 para. 4 CRA);
  • Right to use (Art. 12 para. 2 CRA; Art. 17 CRO);
  • Right to re-sale (Art. 12 para. 2 CRA);
  • Rights in computer programs during an employment relationship (Art. 17 CRA);
  • No personal use (Art. 19 para. 4 CRA);
  • Right to decode relating to interfaces (Art. 21 CRA);
  • Right to a security copy (Art. 24 para. 2 CRA);
  • Shorter term of protection: 50 years (Art. 29 para. 2 lit. A CRA).

Software Patents vs. Computer-implemented Inventions

Software and computer programs respectively are protected by copyright law. Thereby the copyright protects the implementation and not the abstract process forming the basis of a computer program. It is thus possible to effect the same basic idea in an other computer program, or to reprogram a certain functionality of a software, without infringing the copyright.

It would be obvious to try to protect software with patents. Patents protect technical inventions: new and non-obvious solutions of technical problems. By principle, however, computer programs as such may not be patented under European law. A word processor software for example is considered as non-technical and therefore îs excluded from patentability. However, if computer programs are used to implement a technical invention, such a "computer-implemented invention" may be elligible for patent protection in Europe under certain circumstances.