Exploring the limits of copyright protection for source code and executables: software engineering performances and legal minefields

Copyright protection is a much weaker form of protection with respect to patenting, which only applies to physical artefacts (e.g., a specific electronic chip, a particular engine mechanism, etc). This is at the same time a curse (for the IP owners) and a positive thing (for everybody else), as it allows competitor to develop software that provides the very same functionalities, just implemented differently.
This project aims at defining a quantitative framework that clarifies, both from a software engineering viewpoint and from a legal viewpoint, the limits of copyright protection against reproduction for an existing piece of software in the industrial domain. The project will analyse existing software (say, some three different systems) that include visualisation, processing, and information storage functionalities. For each case, the project will define the quantitative boundaries for copyright-based IP infringement (i.e., what are the conditions beyond which two software applications are too similar and thus the second one infringes the copyright of the first one). The project will also analyse the mechanisms through which a codebase can be changed enough, from a software engineering perspective, for it to fall out of the IP infringement zone, but without a decrease in performance (worst coupling, cohesion, modularity, etc).
This project requires a good knowledge of software engineering but no special in-depth knowledge of UK Intellectual property law (with emphasis on copyright law)