Software and Open Source Licensing


Copyright Basics

A copyright grants authors/creators the legal right to exclude others from copying, licensing, and otherwise exploiting original literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc. This includes software code. Copyright protection is available for original works from the moment they are created in a tangible medium, and it applies whether they are published, unpublished or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

For more information on copyright, United States Copyright Office Copyright Basics Guidebook [PDF] is an excellent resource.

Copyrighting Software vs. Patenting Software

In general terms, a patent protects an idea and a copyright protects an expression of an idea. In the case of software, copyright protects the source and object code, but only protects the code as it is written. A patent conveys the right to prevent others from making using, selling or importing a program that performs the same function or process as the patented software, even if the code is entirely different from the patented software.

It is possible to protect some software under both copyright and patent law, and the TLO will assist in determining the most appropriate form of protection.

Software Licensing

The TLO assists authors and inventors in licensing software under a variety of licensing types and distribution strategies. In addition to licensing software code for end use, commercial development and distribution, the TLO licenses unpolished code for non-commercial research and/or academic purposes and also assists authors in distributing software via open source licenses.

Submitting to the TLO

If you have software that you believe incorporates a patentable process or algorithm, you should submit the MIT Invention Disclosure Form as to the process or algorithm. In addition, you should submit the MIT Software Code Disclosure Form, which encompasses the copyrightable software code. Each Disclosure Form will be assigned its own, unique case number. The TLO will then assess: 1) the process or algorithm; and 2) the software code, to determine the commercial viability of either or both. Please note that inventors of the process or algorithm need not be (and likely are not) identical to the authors of the code. The TLO will discuss licensing strategies with the principal inventors and authors of the software.

The Disclosure Forms should be filled out completely, including sponsorship information, a description of the software, a listing of any third party code or open source code embedded in the software and returned with original author signatures. If both Forms are used, they should reference each other in the description of the software.

If you are from Lincoln Laboratory, please use the Lincoln Laboratory Software Copyright Disclosure Form or the Lincoln Laboratory Invention Disclosure Form for the related patentable process or algorithm.

Please contact the TLO with any questions.

Open Source Licensing

Read more about Open Source resources and recommendations here