Patents and Copyright and Trademarks: A Primer

  • avatar Deborah Anne Nicholson
    Deb Nicholson is the Director of Community Outreach at the Open Invention Network. She helps software projects of all sizes understand the implications of free and open source licenses and the current patent landscape. In 2014, she won the O'Reilly Open Source Award for dedication, innovation, leadership and outstanding contribution to open source.
  • avatar Nick Vidal
    Nick Vidal é ativista de software livre há 15 anos, tendo participado como palestrante nos principais eventos de software livre do país. Atualmente trabalha como representante da Open Invention Network na América Latina, promovendo o Linux como uma plataforma aberta de inovação e colaboração. É formado em Engenharia da Computação pela UFRGS e realizou graduação sanduíche na ENSIMAG (França).
There's a constellation of legal constructs that you often hear referred to collectively as "intellectual property law." That's a tricky term because it encourages you to think of these three separate legal ideas as more or less the same, even though they're very different. More importantly, each type of "intellectual property" has different implications for free and open source software developers.

These three concepts were originally designed to provide ownership rights for tangible creations. Software isn't particularly well-served by any of these mechanisms and so we use different concepts for different parts of our software. Just to make it more confusing, each of these mechanisms has also evolved and expanded over time. If you've ever wondered why patents are so tricky when applied to software or how copyright law works, then this is the talk for you. Ms. Nicholson will also describe how a few of the most common software licenses work, where you're most likely to encounter a trademark issue in software development and what you -- as a developer -- can do about software patent aggression.

Absolutely none of this is meant to stand in for legal advice. However, your time with a lawyer can be greatly shortened when you have a good grasp of the basic legal concepts going in.