Intellectual Property Approach: Copyright and Patents
Please see also our August 2016 statement about IPR and licensing in ICN more generally.
Our team believes that NDN is a viable architecture for the future of the Internet. As such, protecting its availability to all who would use it as the basis for innovation is extremely important. We agree with the principles expressed by the Mozilla Foundation in their statement of values, in particular the following:
- The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.
- The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon interoperability (protocols, data formats, content), innovation and decentralized participation worldwide.
- Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.
- Transparent community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
- Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical.
We believe that NDN, as a proposed Future Internet Architecture, must adhere to the same philosophy of openness that has made the existing Internet architecture so wildly successful, enabling such a broad and deep landscape of innovation beyond the fundamental advance in communications technology represented by TCP/IP itself.
By openness, we mean that the standard protocols and algorithms that are the common language or “thin waist” of the future internet must be unencumbered by intellectual property claims, as has been the case for the TCP/IP protocols, HTTP, HTML, and other key components on the current Internet. Indeed, we believe any future Internet architecture must be as equally as accessible as the current one to have any chance of longevity. The designers of TCP/IP had the luxury of not having to worry about a litigious patent environment for networking technologies. We do not have that luxury. We recognize that we are “constructing in a [patent] war zone”, which is a situation that requires special protection to ensure safety in construction. The fact that the IT ecosystem now involves many countries with many incompatible legal frameworks renders even stronger our need to protect complete equality of access to the architecture.
For this reason, core NDN protocol implementations themselves (e.g., NFD) will use GPLv3. GPLv3 offers the best protection of this equality that legal technology can currently offer, for the following reason. Anyone contributing and distributing software into the GPLv3 code base cannot sue those “downstream” using the code base for infringing on any patent claims relevant to the integrated distributed version. Because GPL is a copyright license rather than a patent license, it enjoys international recognition via the Berne Convention. It is with much careful consideration of all possible implications that we have concluded that this single strategy will accomplish more than any other combination of strategies to achieve our goal of equality of access to the core architecture.
This strategy does not require the use of GPL on other parts of the NDN code base. Other reference software implementations will use LGPL, Apache, BSD, or other listed by the Open Source Inititave, to facilitate incorporation in both open and closed source projects. Documentation and technical reports will be made available under a similar open source or Creative Commons license. Copyrights will be held by the author(s) and/or their institutions, per institutional policy.
We will continue to publish as much as possible in peer-reviewed papers, technical reports and protocol specifications on our web site, and open source reference software implementations. For guidance, the team will rely on current practices in the free and open source software (FOSS) community, including possibly formalizing a patent policy similar to that of W3C.
Our approach emphasizes an open source ethos for the architecture and key mechanisms, as well as the research process, but does not intend to restrict the commercialization of innovation by the project team or others. For other parts of the project, each institution may file patent applications on new inventions arising from the research, according to usual practice. Project team members may collaborate with industry and others to develop intellectual property that can spark new markets and increased interest in NDN.
Version 2 first published August 2015
Version 1 first published September 2013.