Intellectual Property and Open Source
A Practical Guide to Protecting Code
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: July 2008
Pages: 386

"Clear, correct, and deep, this is a welcome addition to discussions of law and computing for anyone -- even lawyers!"-- Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society

If you work in information technology, intellectual property is central to your job -- but dealing with the complexities of the legal system can be mind-boggling. This book is for anyone who wants to understand how the legal system deals with intellectual property rights for code and other content. You'll get a clear look at intellectual property issues from a developer's point of view, including practical advice about situations you're likely to encounter.

Written by an intellectual property attorney who is also a programmer, Intellectual Property and Open Source helps you understand patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and licenses, with special focus on the issues surrounding open source development and the GPL. This book answers questions such as:

  • How do open source and intellectual property work together?
  • What are the most important intellectual property-related issues when starting a business or open source project?
  • How should you handle copyright, licensing and other issues when accepting a patch from another developer?
  • How can you pursue your own ideas while working for someone else?
  • What parts of a patent should be reviewed to see if it applies to your work?
  • When is your idea a trade secret?
  • How can you reverse engineer a product without getting into trouble?
  • What should you think about when choosing an open source license for your project?

Most legal sources are too scattered, too arcane, and too hard to read. Intellectual Property and Open Source is a friendly, easy-to-follow overview of the law that programmers, system administrators, graphic designers, and many others will find essential.

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oreillyIntellectual Property and Open Source

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good reference for legal stuff

By Michal Owsiak

from Poland

About Me Developer


  • Accurate
  • Concise
  • Easy to understand
  • Helpful examples


  • USA legislation

Best Uses

  • Intermediate
  • Novice
  • Student

Comments about oreilly Intellectual Property and Open Source:

Recently I was faced a problem to determine which code can be used within the software when different licenses are mixed. Which was not a pleasant task.
Studying legal related topics usually doesn't count into 'ten most interesting' things software engineers like to do.
However, sometimes you have to face the problem.
Van Lindberg deconstructs the legal related issue in very structured way.
First of all he defines all the legal related terms and provides examples for each case.
After the background is settled he goes into details - how to deal with particular, license related issues when you start to develop something.
What I have found most interesting was explanation of GPL license - which is widely used and very often miss understood.
Another issue that is raised within the book, and worth thinking about, is your employment - does it inflict your thinking outside company? Are you aware of that it can?

What I can see at a first glance are the differences between USA
law and European one. This makes it difficult to suggest this book as source of legal knowledge for anyone who lives outside USA. On the other hand, Van
describes most common licenses that are available on the global 'market' - which can help you some way. What I have missed, however
was detailed description of BSD license. I think that BSD can be treated as competitor for GPL - some way, and it would be nice to see
its detailed explanation - unless it is so simple that it doesn't require it. Would I recommend this book? It depends. If you live in USA
I think it is good source of knowledge served in very clear way. If you live outside USA - I think you will only benefit from few chapters
like GPL, Reverse Engineering, Choosing a license ones. If you need explanation of basing legal terms - I think you can go for it - regardless of your living place.

(1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)


Must have for developers and managers!

By Sebastiano at JUG Lugano

from Lugano, Switzerland

About Me Designer, Educator, Maker

Verified Reviewer


  • Accurate
  • Concise
  • Easy to understand
  • Helpful examples
  • Well-written


  • Not comprehensive enough

Best Uses

  • Intermediate
  • Novice
  • Student

Comments about oreilly Intellectual Property and Open Source:

Reading a book on legal topics might seem a daunting perspective for someone with a technical background, and I shared this viewpoint before start reading Intellectual Property and Open Source.

For instance, one thing I noticed as common practice in legal contracts is referring to later content. E.g. it is typical that wording in clause 8 makes reference to what is stated in clause 9, or 11. This clashes with a developer - i.e. analytical - mindset, where you can only build on what has already been defined and/or computed, not on something which is following next :)

With this in mind, I approached the book openly and I was pleased to find that the author could seamlessly take me throught aspects of patent law, copyright, trademarks, etc. with a very accessible language, clear examples, and honest considerations.

Most of the chapters, particularly in the second half of the book, take the developer's perspective on open source licensing. The author jumps in the oss developer's shoes to figure out what licensing is all about, what you need to consider when chosing a licence for your own code, and IP aspects you should consider when working either as an employee or a freelance.

Examples are often taken from prominent case studies, and it is easy to remember them and the argument they referred to. While deep and clear, the author succeeds not to indulge too much in legalese, which is good when you are not a lawyer :P

Most popular open source licences are included in appendix for reference, so that they don't get in the way when you are focusing on specific aspects of IP. For this reason, I believe that the book can serve both as an introduction to IP in oss and a reference book.

A must have book for developers keen on their own IP rights and willing to contribute to open source communities.

(2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)


A Practical Guide to Protecting Code

By Roy Johnson

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Intellectual Property and Open Source:

The Open Source movement makes software available free for people to use or even to pass on to others. This flies in the face of normal commercial practice, where people jealously guard their intellectual property rights. Traditional laws support these rights - so when new open source projects come into being, often as a result of work done collectively, it can be difficult to disentangle issues of ownership and control.

Van Lindberg's new book is an amazingly thorough guide to the whole business. He explains the legal niceties without resorting to too much jargon, and supplies practical support materials in the form of sample licences and agreements. The first part of the book has eight chapters giving an introduction to intellectual property law, then the second part is six chapters offering an intellectual property handbook for developers, particularly those working in the field of open sources.

He warns that it's a book of general principles, not specific advice, for the very good reason that cases of copyright, patents, and intellectual property rights are very case specific. Nevertheless, he does discuss lots of instructive individual cases, and I imagine that anybody with a need to know in this complex field of legislation will find what he has to say both instructive and chastening.

He explains the law on copyright, patents, and inventions by comparing it to computer programming, which it turns out to resemble remarkably closely. One new ruling (or code) is bolted on to that which already exists, and the whole statute grows by a process of accretion.

As a layman, it's interesting to learn that you cannot patent an idea - no matter how original an invention it might be. You can only patent the proof that it can actually be realised and turned into something useful. And even the term 'useful' is coded - as his example of a patent dust cover for dogs illustrates. It can be used - even though the idea itself is quite barmy.

On Open Sources he explains that software is free as in 'free speech', not 'free beer' - but this distinction will mean little to everyday users who are happy to download a program that works well without having to pay for it.

The picture becomes clearer when he explains the success of various Open Source projects - FireFox, Linux, Apache - many of which have formed the basis for successful business ventures. The software itself is free to use and distribute, but companies have legitimately made money from offering services in support of its use.

He's very good at explaining the complexities of rights developed whilst you are in somebody else's employment. In brief, you've very little chance of succeeding, and he even includes some tragic cases of people who have lost lawsuits on works patented before and after they have been in somebody else's employ. If there's a barely-hidden message here, it's 'stay away from legal contests'.

"As a rule, employees should assume that any intellectual output they produce whilst employed will be considered proprietary information and subject to the company's proprietary information agreement (PIA). It doesn't matter if the invention is in a completely different area of technology, or completely unconnected with your work; it still may be covered."

Even if you wish to make your work available free to the public, there are a number of different licenses to choose from, offering a sliding scale of ownership and control - such as public domain, open source, and reciprocal. The general advice he gives is not to attempt writing your own.

One thing is for certain. It's potentially a very complex area both technically and legally. The law works on a basis of precedence, and you can bet that if a legal tangle emerges, it will be judged on similar occurrences in the past, even though your technology might be brand new.

All sorts of additional complications arise because of the special nature of software development. Does the author of a 'patch] (a small-scale solution to a problem) have copyright over it when it is added to a big project? Can you combine two open source programs and claim copyright over the result? What about reverse engineering?

I would have welcomed a glossary and a webliography, but it's to O'Reilly's credit that they publish books like this - because although it might have a fairly limited readership, it raises lots of important issues and simultaneously makes available the information for dealing with them.

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