I often hear on the news about patent infringements being enforced on physical products - such as different types of wrenches, machinery, and toys.

However, I cannot recall an instance where an online business has been sued after creating a pretty much identical product. For instance, a particularly gregarious example of this (in my opinion), is the video game app offerings for phones. Whenever a new trend is found, a wave of seemingly endless copycats always follow.

At first, I thought it was just due to the rate of the ripoffs (e.g. the copyright holder/original creator of the genre being unable to file claims as fast as new ones pop up). However, I also see huge corporate groups such as "Ketchapp" and "Voodoo" whose entire portfolios more or less consist of slightly altered versions of popular competitors.

How is this feasible? And why does copyright law for digital services, in general, seem so much more impotent than it's physical counterpart. Keep in mind, I am not from a legal background. Just curious, that's all.

  • 1
    Patents and copyright are very much apples and oranges, and this has nothing to do with physical/digital.
    – Greendrake
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:26
  • Just because two games have similar ideas, does not mean they are copies.
    – Brandin
    Jul 31, 2020 at 13:18

1 Answer 1


Patents protect inventions, Copyright protects artistic or literary creation

Software does not qualify for patents. In some jurisdictions but by no means most, algorithms and business processes can be patented.

Software, both the literary (code) and artistic (UIJ) work, is protected by copyright which prevents copying the expression but not the idea. So software writers can take inspiration from other software but can’t copy it.

So, things that look like copyright infringement often aren’t but things that look like patent infringement often are.

Patents last for a short time (10-20 years) and take a lot of investment of time and money so their owners are incentivised to commercialise them quickly and on a large scale.

Copyright lasts for a long time (life of the creator(s) + 50 years minimum depending on jurisdiction) and come into existence automatically. In general, it is easier to create a literary or artistic work than a novel invention.

So, patent owners are more incentivised to protect their IP than copyright owners.

  • Thank you for this insight. Do you know if patents and copyrights are usually managed by the same/separate institutions (In the US and Canada to be precise)?
    – AlanSTACK
    Jul 24, 2020 at 23:13

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