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Intellectual Property and Open Source--New from O'Reilly: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code

August 1, 2008

Sebastopol, CA--Once a term prized mostly by insomniacs for its soporific value, intellectual property--and how the law views it--is now central to the job of anyone working in IT. "People's attitudes about intellectual property are changing," says open source lawyer Van Lindberg. Author of the newly released Intellectual Property and Open Source (O'Reilly, US $34.99), Lindberg believes that it's important for people to understand not only the current intellectual property law, but also the structure and purpose of the underlying system.

"We use IP to allocate value and create incentives in society," Lindberg explains. "Just like many other powerful tools, IP can be very useful, but it can also be difficult to work with. You can (easily!) shoot yourself in the foot with intellectual property if you don't understand how and why this tool works."

According to Lindberg, the past fifty years--and especially the last thirty--have brought a tide of stronger intellectual property protections across various industries. This, in turn, has encouraged people to invest heavily in the development of new intellectual properties, moving IP to the core of many business strategies.

"In fact, I would argue that for most businesses in the United States, the intellectual property part of the business is the most valuable part of the business," says Lindberg. And this is where attitudes have begun to change. "We are starting to see a swing away from stronger intellectual property protections, and towards more openness and collaboration."

Open source has been an important and highly visible aspect of this new model for IP. "People frequently have the mistaken impression that open source (or free software) is the opposite of intellectual property. That is absolutely wrong," Lindberg claims. "Open source software is open source because of the way it is structured vis-a-vis the IP laws"

Intellectual Property and Open Source is for anyone who wants to understand how the law views intellectual property rights in code and other content. As an attorney and a programmer, Lindberg provides a clear look at these issues from a developer's point of view, along with practical advice for situations you are likely to encounter, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and open source licenses. You'll learn:

  • How open source and intellectual property work together
  • How to handle copyright, licensing, and other issues when accepting a patch from another developer
  • How to pursue your own ideas while working for someone else
  • How to reverse engineer a product without getting into trouble
  • What parts of a patent should be reviewed to see whether it applies to your work
  • What to consider when choosing an open source license
  • When your idea is a trade secret
  • Intellectual property issues that occur when starting a business or an open source project

Most legal sources are scattered, arcane, and tedious to read. Intellectual Property and Open Source is a friendly, easy-to-follow overview of the law that programmers, system administrators, graphic designers, and many others will find invaluable to their work.

"Clear, correct, and deep, this is a welcome addition to discussions of law and computing for anyone--even lawyers!" -Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School, and founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society

Van Lindberg is a software engineer and practicing attorney. What he does most, though, is translate ? from "lawyer" to "engineer" and back. He likes working with both computer code and legal code to get things done. Van's current work touches both traditional intellectual property and the emerging field of open source law, where he advises businesses and open source groups on intellectual property issues.

Additional Resources:

For more information about the book, including table of contents, index, author bios, and cover graphic, see the catalog page for Intellectual Property and Open Source

Intellectual Property and Open Source
Van Lindberg
ISBN: 9780596517960, 390 pages, $34.99 USD

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