EN | ES | DE | FR | IT | 日本語 | 한국어 | 中文

What Are Open Source Licenses? (VIDEO)

Caldwell IP Welcomes Life Sciences Patent Attorney Katie Rubino To Boston Office
September 18, 2018
Advantages and Disadvantages of Utilizing Open Source Vs Patents (VIDEO)
October 16, 2018

What Are Open Source Licenses?


How Are They Relevant To Blockchain?

MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge – Blockchain: Patents And Open Source



Featured In Video:

Micah T. Drayton, Patent Attorney at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law (Boston Office)


What Are Open Source Licenses?

(Video transcript below)

How Are Open Source Licenses Relevant to Blockchain?


Despite drastic increase in blockchain-related patent filings (see chart below), most of the software developed by the blockchain community is created under some form of open (free) software license. The core code of Bitcoin itself (Bitcoin Core) is held under the MIT-License, the least restrictive free software license.


The MIT-License is the most commonly used free software license on Github.com, and allows not only for the software to be used or altered by anyone, but also allows developers to build proprietary software on top of a copy of the underlying MIT-Licensed software, so long as the terms of the MIT-License are respected. An example of MIT-License software is jQuery, the most commonly used JavaScript library.


Towards the opposite end of the open-source spectrum, Ethereum was released in 2015 under GNU (GPL) which still allows for free use and alteration but requires any subsequent offspring software to also be held under the same license, thereby discouraging proprietary software from being built on top of the Ethereum network. Numerous other licenses exist, varying in terms of permissiveness and other qualities, and sometimes offering multiple versions with or without specific clauses.


(Video Transcript Below)


It is often said that “blockchains are open-source”. This is a sweeping generalization, and like most generalizations, not entirely true. Firstly, blockchain is an entire community, not a single software program, and within that community, many different blockchain networks have been designed and launched, including private blockchains owned by companies and protected by patents.


Furthermore, different aspects or “parts” of a blockchain may require their own software program. Three primary software components of many blockchains are cryptography, a distributed ledger, and a decentralized system, and each of these aspects could use either open-source or proprietary software. Thus, a blockchain can be built on a combination of open-source software and proprietary software working together.



Patent Applications and Issued Patents in the U.S. Circa 2008 – September 2018



Video Transcripts

(Video 1)


So, Micah do you want to give us a little bit of a sense about what open source is?


Sure, well, open source, to me, in practical terms, basically, refers to software that’s been released under open source licenses. And what open source licenses have in common with all licenses, is that they grant certain intellectual property rights to users who are subject to the license.

Usually, in this case, they’re copyright rights, so they are rights to reproduce, to use, and to create derivative works, which means, you know, for example borrowing someone’s source code and writing your own program integrating it, or in some cases, just borrowing someone’s library of compiled code and making function calls to it. So, that’s kind of how you “sign” an open source license, and they’re generally free for anyone to sign, and the source code is generally provided for free or in a manner that is free, in the sense of unrestricted to users who are willing to be subject to the terms of the license, and they have to be if they use it, generally. Now, these licenses range from more restrictive licenses that impose more requirements on the user, generally, requirements aim to guarantee that the source code the user produces will, in turn, be available to other people, and an example of that is the GPL license, or on the other extreme, which I think would be represented best by the MIT-license, they could put very little restriction on the user’s use of the computer program that they produce or the restrictions that they, in turn, can impose on it.

Now, there’s two things that are important, I think, as a sort of “knock-on effect” of these licenses: number one are the legal consequences, and the other one is the practical consequences.

The practical consequences are that a lot of the material that is released under these licenses is going to be freely available to anyone who wants to look at it. It’s disclosed, which means it’s in the public domain basically and people will often ask me, “How can you patent something in blockchain if it’s in the public domain?” and they will also ask me “How can you patent something in blockchain if it was given to you under a license, or, if it was produced under a license?” about, say, a given implementation that is designed to prevent people from patenting things, or restricting access.

To answer the second question first: If you’re not a party to the license, if you didn’t sign it, the license won’t affect you at all, because it generally sounds in copyright, which protects the particular form in which an idea was practiced, as opposed to the idea itself. This is sometimes referred to “The Merger Doctrine” in copyright law. So, if you learn all about a given blockchain implementation and then go out and write your own based on what you’ve learned, you’re pretty safe under copyright law and you’re not subject to the terms of its license.

The second side to that is some of these licenses are not very restrictive, so, they simply won’t prevent you from, for example, filing patents. Almost none of them prevent you from filing patents, even the GPL, and many of them won’t prevent you from enforcing the patents, and as for the other one, almost any invention that is subject to a patent is basically some kind of an incremental improvement to what has come before. A combination of previously existing elements or a slight improvement to a previous invention. So, generally speaking, an invention that’s a slight improvement over something in the public domain can often be subject to patent protection, you know, depending on whether you get a patent.


Thanks for that really thorough, I wasn’t expecting that long of an answer. That was really impressive.

(Video 2)


Maybe, just for a second, touch on how this is relevant, especially if there’s any new blockchain related entrepreneurs in the audience today.


Well it’s relevant because much of the blockchain technology was developed originally under open source licenses. Bitcoin in particular, which is something of a big deal in the blockchain community, was developed under the MIT-license. I believe ethereum is offered under GPL, although it kind of depends on what aspect of ethereum some of them are also offered under the related licenses.

So, I suppose if you’re thinking of borrowing somebody’s library, or using somebody’s library to make, as part of your implementation you have to consider what license you’re going to be receiving that library under, and whether you’ll be able to cope with the strictures of that license. And, as with anything else, what’s already out there is going to affect what you can get a patent on, so, what’s publicly disclosed you have to you have to think in terms of what your “incremental improvement” is.


Okay, thanks. I appreciate that.


Ask a Question


  1. Hi there! I understand this is somewhat off-topic but I needed to ask.

    Does managing a well-established blog like yours take a massive amount work?
    I am completely new to operating a blog however I do write in my diary every day.
    I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share
    my experience and views online. Please let me know if you have any ideas or tips
    for brand new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!

  2. It’s going to be end of mine day, except before ending I am reading this fantastic piece of writing to increase my knowledge.

  3. Why people still use to read news papers when in this technological world everything
    is existing on net?

  4. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a
    problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would
    be greatly appreciated.

  5. This piece of writing is truly a pleasant one it assists new internet people, who are wishing in favor of blogging.

  6. For most recent news you have to pay a quick visit
    web and on world-wide-web I found this site as a best website for
    latest updates.

  7. This article offers clear idea for the new viewers of blogging, that in fact how to do running a blog.

  8. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding
    choice of colors!

  9. Hello to every one, since I am in fact keen of reading
    this webpage’s post to be updated regularly. It consists of fastidious stuff.

  10. I blog often and I really appreciate your information. This article has truly peaked my interest.
    I’m going to take a note of your blog and keep checking
    for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

  11. Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your post. I like to write
    a little comment to support you.

  12. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well
    written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.

  13. Keep on writing, great job!

  14. I like it when individuals get together and share opinions.
    Great site, keep it up!

  15. Hey there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to
    my friends. I am sure they’ll be benefited from this web site.

  16. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this
    website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u
    got this from. thank you

  17. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my weblog thus i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok
    to use a few of your ideas!!

  18. I think the admin of this website is really working hard
    in support of his site, because here every material is quality based material.

  19. You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest blogs online.

    I am going to recommend this website!

  20. Wow, this article is fastidious, my sister is analyzing these things,
    so I am going to convey her.

  21. It’s genuinely very difficult in this active life to listen news on TV, therefore I just use internet for that
    reason, and obtain the newest information.

  22. I always used to study paragraph in news papers but now as I am a user
    of web so from now I am using net for articles, thanks to web.

  23. Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to assert that I acquire in fact enjoyed account your blog posts.
    Any way I will be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you access
    consistently quickly.

  24. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for
    me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out
    a designer to create your theme? Outstanding work!

  25. I simply could not leave your site prior to suggesting that
    I extremely loved the usual info a person provide in your guests?

    Is gonna be again regularly in order to check up on new posts

  26. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive
    a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views.
    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share
    it with someone!

  27. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site.

    I’m hoping to view the same high-grade content from you
    in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now

  28. Someone necessarily assist to make significantly posts I might state.

    That is the very first time I frequented your web page and to this point?
    I surprised with the research you made to create this particular post incredible.
    Excellent activity!

  29. I think the admin of this site is truly working hard in support of
    his site, since here every stuff is quality based material.

  30. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme
    in our community. Your web site provided us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

  31. tinyurl.com says:

    I don’t even know the way I finished up right here, but I thought this put up
    was once great. I do not understand who you’re however definitely you are going to a famous blogger in the event you are not already.

  32. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just
    wanted to say great blog!

  33. Hello it’s me, I am also visiting this site on a regular basis, this
    web site is actually fastidious and the people are really sharing pleasant thoughts.

  34. quest bars says:

    Hi are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to
    make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  35. quest bars says:

    Hi there everybody, here every one is sharing these familiarity, therefore it’s
    good to read this webpage, and I used to go to see this website all the time.

  36. Thanks for every other excellent post. Where else may just anyone get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing?
    I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the search for such info.

  37. Article writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with
    afterward you can write or else it is complicated to write.

  38. Informative article, totally what I wanted to

  39. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post,
    I will try to get the hang of it!

  40. Major thanks for the blog article. Will read on…

  41. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of
    your great post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  42. Hi! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established blog.
    Is it hard to set up your own blog? I’m not very
    techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where
    to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?


  43. you’re in reality a good webmaster. The website loading speed
    is incredible. It kind of feels that you are doing any unique trick.

    Moreover, The contents are masterwork. you have performed a excellent task in this topic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *