Protecting Your Source Code

Independent programmers often bring their software tool kits with them when embarking on a new project. At the end of the day, the tool kit has changed and there's a blend of old, new and reusable code. Who owns what?

In such cases, says Marc Blatt, principal at the Law Offices of Marc Blatt in Los Angeles, programmers should strongly consider seeking the help of an intellectual property protection services company that serves as a trusted third party. The trusted third party will deposit a snapshot copy of the tool kit in its original form in source code escrow. Various snapshots in time can be deposited to create a traceable, time-stamped record differentiating between the pre-existing tool kit and code developed later.

In the event of a dispute, a qualified arbitrator or other neutral intermediary can compare a copy of the deposit from the escrow company with the current version of the code as developed during the term of the programmer's engagement. The snapshot/escrow approach makes it relatively straightforward to resolve arguments as to whether source code revisions were created by the programmer prior to or after termination of the contract.

Here's a sampling of some software escrow companies:

DSI Technology Escrow Services, San Francisco ( Knox Escrow Services, Atlanta ( SoftEscrow, Englewood, Colo. ( Escrow Corp., Atlantic Beach, Fla. ( LLC, Los Angeles (

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