(By Gao Shaoyi, Li Rong)Online education is becoming increasingly more important to educational and training industries due to the impact of Covid-19. Online education platforms provide various educational services including course video recording, live online teaching, personalized teaching and instructing, test question searching, work assessment, etc., which to some extent reduce the effect of suspension of on-campus classes on teachers and students. There are many online education platform developers and a lot of online education platform software products launched. Some software brands are copied from others. Therefore, for online education platform software developers, giving a protection for intellectual property rights in their online education platforms in all respects is the only way to gain more core competitive advantages and succeed in today’s market.
1.Ways of protecting intellectual property rights in different layer-based structures of online education platform software
Online education platform software is similar to other software products which may be a three-layer or four-layer structure, which is divided into different layers according to which development tool is used in online education platform software. In this article online education platform software is supposed to consist of four layers, i.e. interactive, business logic, data service and code layers.
The interactive layer is software interactive interface. For online education platform software users, this is the only layer that they can see and interact with. The interactive interface of the interactive layer that shows differences in design of its own software and other brands, especially creative ways of importing user information, layout of the interface design and ways of presenting its content can be easily distinguised from other kinds of online education platform software. Creative design of the interactive layer can help businesses attract users and make them more faithful.
The interactive layer of online education platform software is patentable as appearance design like graphic user interface (GUI). Original creative words, graphs, models, pictures, pieces of music, videos and works included in the interactive interface are copyrightable. Marks, decorations, etc. in the interactive interface that indicate its source can be protected as trademarks.
b.Business logic layer
The business logic layer is a process of performing general functions of software products, especially processes, technical means and plans for implementation of processing information using software. Online education platform software with a wider variety of software functions, for example by improving the function of identifying questions in pictures and photos to increase the number of correct answers and giving links to facts and explanations relating to questions that you give wrong answers to could give better user experience.
The business logic layer of an online education platform software can be protected by obtaining an invention patent on technical aspects of the software or ways of implementing its functions or a utility patent on the device that combines software and hardware. Core technology that your business keeps in confidence can be protected in the same way as trade secrets.
c.Data service layer
The data service layer is at the bottom of a software structure and related to implementation of each step in the process described by the business logic layer. A solid bottom structure basically supports and ensures the performance of functions of online education platform software, for example, encrypted algorithm, image editing communication agreements, etc.
The data service layer of an online education platform software can be protected in the same way as patented inventions and sometimes as trade secrets.
The code layer of a software product is formed by its source codes. The code layer of an online education platform software can be protected in the same way as copyrighted computer software and sometimes as trade secrets. To prevent reverse decryption, a special treatment of codes by technical means may be helpful, for example, a confusing combination of codes, dynamic load, core data and function cloud, etc. Use of open source codes in the development of codes for online education platform software should be subject to relevant provisions of the open source agreement.
2.Analysis of Key Points in Each Kind of Intellectual Property Rights Relating to Online Education Platform Software
a.Ways of protecting copyrights
For online education platform software, core data that are copyrightable refer to online course content, teaching materials, course videos, textbooks, tests, etc. Two parts of an online education platform software are copyrightable. First, in general, original creative works in the interactive interface are copyrightable. For example, original creative items in PPT, oral content, course videos, original or compiled test questions, etc. used by instructors in live online teaching are copyrightable, including selections and sequences of sections of textbooks and key points in facts that students learn and test questions that are given in an original and creative way. Second, software source codes are protected according to the Computer Software Protection Rules. Cross protection of these two parts is impossible. Computer software copyrights are intended to protect specific source codes, not the functional interface generated from the running of the software and words and images included in it.
A large number of works are needed for the running of an online education platform software. Copyrights in these works are obtained immediately when the works are completed, with no need to go through the recordation process. For online education platform software providers, filing copyright recordation applications for some of the works can make their businesses known to the public and the work copyright recordation certificate or the computer software copyright recordation certificate have legal effect and are the powerful weapon for fighting pirated copies of software, courses and textbooks. In addition, no substantive examination of copyright recordation applications is required. Obtaining the two certificates does not cost businesses a lot of money or time.
b.Ways of protecting patent rights
Functions and implementation plans for the functions of online education platform software products are patentable. Patent owners have monopolistic rights to their patents within the statutory patent terms. Patented platform software include the technical plan contained in it, which is within the scope of protection of the patent even if the plan is implemented in different codes or devices.
As stated above, invention patent applications for ways of implementing software functions and algorithm of the bottom structure of online education platform software, utility patent applications for technical plans for a combination of software and hardware and appearance design patent applications for graphical user interface (GUI) may be approved.
Note especially that online education platform software users get their first experience from the user interface. Having an appearance design patent on the graphical user interface of a software product gives a business a lot of advantages. For example, obtaining an appearance design patent costs less money and time than an invention patent and will make evidence collection in case of a dispute. After the appearance design patent on GUI is approved, no other businesses can copy the patent owner’s GUI so that the patent owner’s products look so different from other products that they can hardly be copied.
c.Ways of protecting trade secrets
Core algorithm and codes of online education platform software can be protected in the same way as trade secrets as long as the software business has a good trade secret protection system and internal management policies with no need to apply to, register with or obtain approval from the official authority concerned. Trade secrets include a wide range of things and are protected for a long time. Anything that is secret, valuable and confidential can be deemed as trade secrets.
To protect your core technology in the same way as trade secrets your business needs to meet high requirements for internal management policies by establishing and improving its own internal control systems. Protecting your software in the same way as trade secrets could not prevent reverse decryption of the software. After the reverse decryption of the software or disclosure of confidential information contained therein, the software can no longer be protected in the same way as trade secrets.
d.Ways of protecting trademark rights
Business marks or logos can be widely used in software names, advertising and promotion and interactive interfaces of online education platform software products to make a close connection between the marks and the software and gain a fairly high popularity and profit rate. Based on accessible information about Top 5 online education platform software companies, the number of patent applications and copyright recordation cases is much smaller than the number of trademarks because evidence collection is a fairly easy job in case of trademark infringement and trademark registration is beneficial to promotion of online education.
Trademark rights only enable right holders to fight unauthorized uses of the same or similar trademarks in the same or similar commodities or services so that they need to file numerous trademark applications for strategical purposes in order to obtain trademarks for the same or similar commodities or services that are similar to their registered trademarks before other person does so and prevent malicious registration of trademarks that are “akin” to their trademarks. For example, Beijing Yuan Li Education Technology Ltd. (Xiao Yuan APP for finding test questions) applied for “Yuan Xi”, “Yuan Xue”, “Yuan Li” and other trademarks that were “akin” to its “Xiao Yuan” and “Yuan Li” trademarks approved and had filed up to eight hundred trademark applications which formed a well established trademark system.
In addition to the above mentioned ways of protecting your intellectual property rights, in case of an online education platform software infringement, you can also use rules against unfair competition to protect your traceable unique interface design from being copied by others in bad faith.
For effective protection of intellectual property rights you need to well understand performance modes, core algorithm, creative ideas and other core technology in each online education platform software product and protect all intellectual property rights in layers, modules, ideas, algorithm, hardware, design, etc. of platform software. More importantly, online education platform software should be considered in its entirety to make comprehensive strategies for protecting intellectual property rights by taking full advantage of different approaches to intellectual property protection and taking into account characteristics of online education platform software.