Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Your intellectual property (IP) can be protected by copyrights, trademarks, patents, and licenses.
You may have a product or service that calls for more than one of these IP rights. A software license is a legal instrument that governs the use or redistribution of software. These contracts transfer IP rights from the owner (licensor) to another party who wants to use them (licensee). They can be exclusive – allowing only one licensee – or nonexclusive – granting rights to multiple users. Besides protecting your business’s assets, licenses can generate significant revenue. If you have a product, website, application, or idea that needs to be licensed, Denver Small Business Attorney E.C. Lewis, P.C. will work with you to protect your intellectual property. This post will cover some basics of software licensing.

  1. Before Choosing Your Software License
  2. Ways to License Your Software
  3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

1. Before Choosing Your Software License

If you make your own software program or application, you likely want as many people to use it as possible – legally, that is. But, how do you decipher the billions of pages of information and laws about software copyrights, end-user license agreements (EULAs), other types of licenses, and so on? How do you know for sure what happens and how protected you are once your product is released? These are among the many major considerations, such as who holds the rights to your work, who gets to use it, how much access do they have to your design/code, and what type of license is best for your product. The last thing you want is to set yourself up for trouble. Simple protective measures regarding copyrights and licensing will go a long way, like going more restrictive than liberal in your terms from the start. As a developer, you may have some notion of how you would like the launch of your program or application to play out. The advice of a small business attorney with extensive experience in the information technology sector will help secure your IP and potential profits.

2. Ways to License Your Software

EULAs bind the end-user (licensee) with a valid contract and grant rights to use the software with terms and conditions. Some of these include limitation of liability of the licensor, disclaimer of warranties, choice of applicable law to the contractual relationship, venue for possible disputes, etc. Open-source licenses, like Apache 2.0, GPL, and LGPL, can be viewed as ready-made universal EULA formats. The open-source community is growing with more developers publishing their code online. Here are a few types of licenses.

  • MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) License is an open-source license that allows the user to do as they wish with the software/code as long as they give you proper credit or attribution. You are not held liable if issues arise from the software.
  • Apache License 2.0 is similar to the MIT License, but the end-user cannot use any of the work under your trademark. This gives you patent protection.
  • GPL (General Public License), known as a viral license, is widely used. With this license, anyone can use, distribute, and modify the software. The Lesser GPL (LGPL) is a less viral type, permitting the use of a library in proprietary programs and protecting your code under similar rules to GPL. It does not force any code outside of your own to be released under the same license.
  • Artistic License 2.0 enables users to copy and distribute copies of the software, but changes are not allowed.
  • EPL (Eclipse Public License) allows people to use, modify, copy, and distribute the code and modified versions for free. With an EPL license, anyone distributing the work must grant every recipient a license to any patents that cover the modifications they have made.
  • BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) Licenses are a series of licenses which have varying clauses. The Simplified BSD license and the New BSD license are two GPL compliant licenses. These licenses impose the minimal restrictions on the redistribution of covered software.

These are only a few of the major software licenses out there. Your small business attorney can go over all of the different levels of complexity, restrictions, and benefits among them to determine what is right for you.

3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

When it comes to protecting your IP, software is one of the most licensable. The key to the successfully commercializing your software is to choose the right license in order to generate revenue without giving up rights. Partnering licensing is a way to gain additional support, recognition, or marketing channels. A co-brand license can lend credibility and quickly raise awareness, leading to broader sales. Another partnering strategy is to license out rights to market and distribute your product. This could enable you to enter into global markets you would otherwise not reach. A third example is non-competing field, which is a good alternative if you do not intend to enter certain markets. In this case, you could partner with a larger, established software developer of another product and bundle yours with it. Whichever way you decide to go, it is essential to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. This reinforces your rights, especially if you find yourself in litigation. A small business attorney will be there with you if you ever have to take someone to court.

If you need help with software licensing, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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How To Stay Software Compliant And Avoid Big Trouble

How To Stay Software Compliant And Avoid Big Trouble

Your small business may not operate on a national or global level, but as a software user on any level, you are subject to licensing agreement laws. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted software is more common than you think. Not thinking about it will also lead to legal trouble, like the $3 million penalty the City of Denver recently paid to Oracle. Examples of misuse include sharing, downloading, selling, or installing multiple copies of licensed software. Other examples are installing a piece of software more times than the license permits and sharing software license codes, activation keys, or user IDs and passwords for web-based software applications. It is equally as important to protect your business’s intellectual property as it is to protect it from threatening audits or penalties. A small business attorney will help keep you compliant and protected. This post will discuss:

  1. Different types of software licenses,
  2. Impact and consequences of unlicensed software, and
  3. Precautions concerning software and license choices every small business should take.

1. Staying Legal With Software Licenses

According to Wikipedia, a software license is a legal contract that governs the use or redistribution of software. All software is copyright protected, and a license grants the licensee/end-user specific permission to use one or more copies of the software. One exception is public domain software, where the software has been put into the public domain for anyone to use. Another exception to typical proprietary software is open source. Open source software is under copyright, but this type of license grants users the right to modify, reuse, and share the product while protecting the copyright holders from legal liability. One of the most popular of these licenses is a GNU General Public License, which takes measures to ensure that your software stays open source even if modified or redistributed. Other open source licenses include GNU Lesser General Public License, Apache License, MIT License, and BSD License. There are varying levels of complexity and restrictions among the different open source licenses each with their own benefits. A small business lawyer will help you determine what type of software and licenses are right for your business.

2. Impact And Consequences Of Failure To Comply With Software Licensing Laws

Software licensing or compliance audits are conducted to improve software distribution and to avoid or determine copyright infringement. Not only can an infringement result in your software being disabled, but it can lead to civil as well as criminal penalties. Unlicensed software also exposes businesses and consumers to security threats, like malware, ransomware, spyware, and viruses. A CBS Denver news story reveals that, as a result of the city’s violation of licensing agreements with Oracle, Denver taxpayers will pay millions of dollars more in 2017. The article states that Oracle threatened a $10 million penalty but settled for $3 million. Chief Information Officer for Denver Technology Services Scott Cardenas did not say how the city became out of compliance, only that the city has entered a new five-year contract with Oracle that is a “true-up” or balancing of its licensing with Oracle. A Forbes article indicates that companies, like Oracle, are giving more audit and breach notices, leaving businesses prone to losing their software programs and much more. It is easier than ever to fall out of compliance with the changing nature of software products and evolution of IT infrastructure. Your small business attorney will ensure your business stays compliant in order to avoid costly fines or loss of your current database.

3. Precautions When Considering Your Software And License Choices

Small businesses can learn valuable lessons from big entities and their mistakes or misfortunes with software licensing compliance. There are numerous precautions you should take to keep your small business out of big trouble. It is essential to find the right software and license fit for your company. Once you have done this, follow a checklist as it applies to your business.

  1. Keep an organized record of purchase orders, contracts, paid invoices, retail and other receipts for purchase, and original license certificates;
  2. Audit software installed on any desktop, portable, virtual computer, server, or personal computer/device used for company purposes;
  3. Compare and match software product names, version numbers, and types of licenses;
  4. Establish a company policy regarding software usage; and
  5. Monitor ongoing usage.

A small business attorney will ensure you have taken the necessary precautions and represent you in the event of a software licensing violation.

If you need help with software compliance or your small business contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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GNU Lesser GPL and Apache Software Licenses

We’ve already discussed the most popular open source software license, the GNU General Public License (GPL), as part of our series on open source software licenses, but this time we will review a common variation of the GPL known as the Lesser GPL and the Apache License.

As a reminder, open source software licenses generally allows users to make use of, change, and share the software with others without limitation, while also providing the complete source code to the user.

The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)

The LGPL is essentially the same as the GPL and it will keep the LGPL licensed software free, but there is one critical distinction. It allows users of the LGPL software to combine it with other software, whether it is free or proprietary. This is done in a relatively simple fashion by taking the original GPL and adding permissions to it (this is done by removing section 3 of the GPL and replacing it with the LGPL language).

If you want to permit your software to be combined with proprietary software, use the LGPL, if you want to restrict it to being combined with freely distributable software, go with the GPL. To release software under the LGPL, simply add “Lesser” before “General” in all three places found in the instructions to the GPL, and include the text of the LGPL in addition to that of the GPL with the software and source code. 

Apache License

Apache is another popular open source software license that is used for the Apache Web Server software, which is and has been the most popular web server on the internet since 1996.  It is also the license used by Google for the Android mobile operating system.

The Apache License is different from the GPL in that it does not use any “copyleft,” meaning it does not require modifications or derivative works of the software to also be licensed under the same terms as the original software. You are also not required to provide the source code when you distribute the software to others.

Like the GPL and LGPL, the Apache license disclaims warranties, protect you from liability and others patenting your work, and requires them to give you credit in their future works, as well as note any modifications to it. Therefore, if you are not interested in “copyleft” limitations, the Apache license may make sense for you.

This is the language you use to apply the Apache License to your software, which includes a link to the full language:

Copyright YEAR NAME OF COPYRIGHT OWNER 

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the “License”);

you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.

You may obtain a copy of the License at

    http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software

distributed under the License is distributed on an “AS IS” BASIS,

WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied.

See the License for the specific language governing permissions and

limitations under the License.

If you have any questions about deciding on a license or creating specialized license for your software, contact the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, PC, home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer, Elizabeth Lewis at 720-258-6647 or email her at elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.