Considering the New GNU General Public License (GPLv3) in IP Due Diligence

In June 2007 the Free Software Foundation released version 3 of the GNU General Public License relating to open source software code.  Under version 3, distributors of open source software have the option to continue distribution under GPLv2 or changing distribution to GPLv3. 

When IP due diligence reveals that a software product is licensed using the GNU General Public License, the license version (GPLv2 or GPLv3) can be important.  For example, GPLv3 does not permit licensed open source code to be used as a “technological measure” for controlling access to a copyrighted work.  Thus, if the software product at issue includes technical features such as digital rights management (DRM) to prevent copying, GPLv3 prohibits the use of licensed open source code to achiee the DRM or similar features. 

In addition, GPLv3 expressly requires a user of open source code to license any relevant patents to others who also want to use the open source code.  Thus, if a software product is covered by a patent but also contains open source code, the resulting product’s code must not only be made available to others, but any patents covering the product also may be automatically licensed to others.  Of course, this can significantly reduce the value of the patent.

Issues such as these may require that IP due diligence include an inquiry into which version of the GPL covers open source code.  The complete text of GPLv3 is available from the GNU Project.

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