Open Source Series

Episode 3: Contributing to and Releasing Open Source


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Instructor: Todd Smithline
Length: 30 minutes
CLE: None
Tools: Open Source Contribution Questionnaire; Open Source Release Questionnaire; Presentation Slides
Roundtable: Yes
Created: 7/16

In this third Episode in our Open Source Series, we identify the IP and legal risks of contributing or releasing open source and provide a three-question framework to help you evaluate contribution and release requests from your team.

Specific Topics:
  1. Big Picture: Open Source Projects – We explain how open source projects work from a practical and legal perspective.
  2. Legal Implications – We explain the legal implications of contributing to or releasing open source, including entering into a binding legal agreement and granting rights under patent, copyright and trade secret.
  3. Contributing to a Project – We discuss the three main types of contributor license agreements: the license model, joint ownership model and assignment model. We then introduce a three-question process for evaluating whether to make a particular contribution: (1) What are the legal terms of the contribution? (2) What is the nature of the contribution? and (3) Does the contribution relate to the company’s own intellectual property?
  4. Contribution Examples – Using a hypothetical SaaS company ServiceHR, we walk through two hypothetical open source contribution requests from ServiceHR’s engineers. We apply the three-question framework to each request to determine what legal risk, if any, making the contribution would present to ServiceHR.
  5. Releasing a Project – As we did with the question of contributing to an open source project, we cover the key legal considerations for a company contemplating releasing its own open source project and discuss possible ways to manage associated risk. We then discuss considerations for choosing an outbound project license and inbound contributor agreement for the project.