Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The Apache License, v2.0

[..]

2. Grant of Copyright License

Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, each Contributor hereby grants to You a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable copyright license to reproduce, prepare Derivative Works of, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense and distribute the Work and such Derivative Works in Source or Object form.

[..]

3. Grant of Patent License

Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, each Contributor hereby grants to you a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable (except as stated in this section) patent license to make, have made, use offer to sell, sell, import, and otherwise transfer the Work, where such license applies only to those patent claims licensable by such Contributor that are necessarily infringed by their Contribution(s) alone or by combination of their Contribution(s) with the Work to which such Contribution(s) was submitted. If You institute patent litigation against any entity (including cross-claim or counterclaim in lawsuit) alleging that the Work or a Contribution incorporated within theWork constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, then any patent licenses granted to You under this License for that Work shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.

While the meaning of the Copyright License provision is rather clear, I did not get the meaning of the Patent License provision.

  • Which advantages does the "Grant of Patent License" provision further give to Contributors? Why are they useful?

  • Is the "Grant of Patent License" provision useful only in case of patent litigation?

share|improve this question

migrated from stackoverflow.com Jun 19 '12 at 21:12

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

1  
tldrlegal.com/license/APACHE2 - Apache2 summary in plain english. –  Kevin Wang Jul 9 '12 at 12:40
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The license wants avoid this situation:

  • Contributor-A creates a free project.
  • Contributor-A convinces to Contributor-B, Contributor-C and Contributor-D of to collaborate with the project.
  • All people is very happy right now. The world is wonderful.
  • The contributors sell products based on the code of the project.
  • The contributor make much money from the products based on this project.
  • Contributor-A has various patents related to the project and decides to demand to the other contributors.
  • Contributor-A reclaims a fee for each product sold by the other contributors.

Can you see the problem?. Let me give you a real example:

A common theme used by the comedy crew Monty Python was to emphasize and exaggerate ridiculousnesses that their target had imposed upon themselves. Few things could be considered as humorous as making a redundancy protocol... redundant; e.g. being forced to replace it by Cisco lawyers and IETF policy.

We've been working a few years now on our packet filtering software pf(4) and it became time to add failover. We want to be able to set up pf firewalls side by side, and exchange the stateful information between them, so that in case of failure another could take over 'keep state' sessions. Our pfsync(4) protocol solves this problem. However, on both sides of the firewall, it is also necessary to have all the regular hosts not see a network failure. The only reliable way to do this is for both firewall machines to have and use the same IP and MAC addresses. But the only real way to do that is to use multicast protocols.

The IETF community proposed work in this direction in the late 90's, however in 1997 Cisco informed them that they believed some of Cisco's patents covered the proposed IETF VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol); on March 20, 1998 they went further and specifically named their HSRP "Hot Standby Router Protocol" patent. Reputedly, they were upset that IETF had not simply adopted the flawed HSRP protocol as the standard solution for this problem. Despite this legal pressure, the IETF community forged ahead and published VRRP as a standard even though there was a patent in the space. Why? There was much deliberation at all levels of the IETF, and unfortunately for all of us the politicians within eventually decided to allow patented technology in standards -- as long as the patented technology is licensed under RAND (Reasonable And Non Discriminatory) terms. As free software programmers, we therefore find ourselves in the position that these RAND standards must not be implemented by us, and we must deviate from the standard. We find all this rather Unreasonable and Discriminatory and we will design competing protocols. Some standards organization, eh?

Due to some HSRP flaws fixed by VRRP and for compatibility with the (HSRP-licensed) VRRP implementations of their competitors, Cisco in recent times has largely abandoned HSRP and now relies on VRRP instead -- a protocol designed for and by the community, but for which they claim patent rights.

On August 7 2002, after many communications, Robert Barr (Cisco's lawyer) firmly informed the OpenBSD community that Cisco would defend its patents for VRRP implementations -- meaning basically that it was impossible for a free software group to produce a truly free implementation of the IETF standard protocol. Perhaps this is because Cisco and Alcatel are currently engaged in a pair of patent lawsuits; a small piece of which is Cisco attempting to use the HSRP patent against Alcatel for their use of VRRP. Some IETF working group members took note of our complaints, however an attempt in April 2003 to have the IETF abandon the use of patented technology failed to "reach consensus" in the IETF.

A few years ago, the W3C, who designs our web protocols, tried to move to a RAND policy as well (primarily because of pressure from Microsoft and Apple), but the community outrage was so overpowering that they backed down. Some standards groups use this policy, while others avoid it -- the one differentiation being the amount of corporate participation. In the IETF, the pro-RAND agents work for AT&T, Alcatel, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, and other large companies. Since IETF is an open forum, they can blend in as the populace, and vote just like all others, except against the community.

Translation: In failing to "reach consensus", the companies who benefit from RAND won, and the community lost again.

Left with little choice, we proceeded to reinvent the wheel or, more correctly, abandon the wheel entirely and go for a "hovercraft". We designed CARP (Common Address Redundancy Protocol) to solve the same problem that these other protocols are designed for, but without the same technological basis as HSRP and VRRP. We read the patent document carefully and ensured that CARP was fundamentally different. We also avoided many of the flaws in HSRP and VRRP (such as an inherent lack of security). And since we are OpenBSD developers, we designed it to use cryptography.

The combination of pf(4), pfsync(4), and carp(4) has permitted us to build highly redundant firewalls. To date, we have built a few networks that include as many as 4 firewalls, all running random reboot cycles. As long as one firewall is alive in a group, traffic through them moves smoothly and correctly for all of our packet filter functionality. Cisco's low end products are unable to do this reliably, and if they have high end products which can do this, you most certainly cannot afford them.

As a final note of course, when we petitioned IANA, the IETF body regulating "official" internet protocol numbers, to give us numbers for CARP and pfsync our request was denied. Apparently we had failed to go through an official standards organization. Consequently we were forced to choose a protocol number which would not conflict with anything else of value, and decided to place CARP at IP protocol 112. We also placed pfsync at an open and unused number. We informed IANA of these decisions, but they declined to reply.

If you want know more info about this case, search the mails related to CARP and patents in the "misc" mailing list of OpenBSD. I think that this case was the first big one case related to this situation (a open protocol with patents).

Probably you can also found information related to SCO lawsuits of the last decade. The clause about patents in the GPLv3 license exists due to the SCO lawsuits.

A lot of projects (and lawyers) have learned very much of the lawsuits of the last decade.

Warning: the license doesn't protect you against lawsuit from companies external to the project.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I'm not a lawyer, but it looks to me like a plain English reading of section 3 is:

You can freely use the technology in this product, even if any of it is covered by patents owned by the contributors, without having to worry about patent issues. But if you try and sue anyone over patent issues related to this product, then you lose the rights of this patent license and you're not protected anymore, so play nice.

The idea is not "to be useful in patent litigation" so much as "to prevent patent litigation from happening in the first place."

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.