Commentary - In today’s tech savvy business world, the ability to develop software quickly and effectively is essential to beating your competitor to the market. To reduce cycle time, software designers often turn to established proprietary source code as a base, allowing them to build out the framework of their software quickly while focusing most of their attention on unique their algorithms or functions.
This time-saving and cost effective strategy isn’t limited to organizations with proprietary code. Developers, especially start-up programmers, often use publicly available open source code in the early phases of a project. What some developers don’t realize is that, even when using open source code, they’re entering a legal agreement in terms of copyright.
In the rush to bring a useable product to market, hurried software developers can run afoul of important open source software licensing rules, leaving themselves exposed to copyright complaints, infringement suits and loss of control over their own code.
A similar violation can occur when developers attempt to overlap open source licenses. Many cannot be combined under any circumstances; doing so could once again end in copyright infringement charges, as the licenses themselves have contradictory or competing terms.
As software designers write their code, it’s important to know where each line is coming from. IBM, for example, has a well-known policy of requiring that candidate companies for acquisition be able to pinpoint exactly where every single line of code that they process comes from. That way, there’s little danger of contaminating proprietary software with open source code.
While all these possible pitfalls can be dangerous, open source code still remains a great way for companies to develop software quickly. And the real key to successfully doing just that is finding code with the best perfect open source license for your needs. In total, there is code governed by roughly 70 open source licenses available to the public. But to help ease the decision, most licenses fall into one of two groupings: “strong” open source licenses that require all code incorporating the open source component to be released under the same conditions as the original open source code; and flexible open source licenses that do not have such demands for distribution of the combined code.
Also be wary if you have patent licensing agreements; the new GNU license stipulates that you cannot license patents exclusively or under special terms to one company, while blocking others; you have to give the same terms to everyone who licenses your software.
D’vorah Graeser, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Graeser Associates International (GAI), an international intellectual property firm specializing in the preparation, filing and prosecution of medical device, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, bioinformatics and medical software patents. Dr. Graeser is a US Patent Agent and is not an attorney at law; none of the above should be construed as legal advice.