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Open Source: Handle With Care to Protect IP, Wolf Greenfield Attorney Tells Embedded Systems Conference
[October 21, 2004]

Open Source: Handle With Care to Protect IP, Wolf Greenfield Attorney Tells Embedded Systems Conference

BOSTON --(Business Wire)-- Oct. 21, 2004 -- Using open source code in proprietary products without a well-defined technical and legal strategy imperils a company's intellectual property rights and increases the risk of lawsuits, Edmund J. Walsh an IP lawyer with Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C., told the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston.

Embedded systems manufacturers often must use OS code to cut costs and stay competitive, but to make smart choices they must have a full understanding of the rules and risks in this fast-changing area, he said.

"If you distribute software that includes open-source code, you must propagate the open-source terms, and you could lose the rights to your proprietary software," Walsh said.

Walsh offered these guidelines for using OS safely:

-- Know what you need. When you use open source, you're typically giving up some IP rights, but if your product does not depend on IP rights, that may not be worth worrying about. However, if you do have valuable intellectual property, protecting it is paramount.

-- Acquire with care. Established OS software, like Linux, has been vetted by a large user community. But using little-known open source code is much riskier because you don't know who really wrote it or if it infringes on someone's IP rights.

-- Quarantine it. Take technical and/or legal steps to separate OS code from proprietary code. If your product can legally be viewed as a derivative work of the OS code, you can lose rights. To avoid that, proprietary code should be dynamically linked to OS code through a previously established interface. To avoid implied licenses of your patents and other IP rights, consider creating separate subsidiaries: one that owns your IP rights and another one that sells products incorporating open source.

-- Follow open source rules upon distribution. Hew to all license provisions. "There are a myriad of open source licenses, and companies must know the possibilities to develop effective product-marketing and product-acquisition strategies while protecting their intellectual property," Walsh said.

-- Watch for changes. The legal environment regarding open source is in flux; keeping up with the latest rulings and litigation trends is crucial.

The Embedded Systems Conference Boston is the most important educational forum on the East Coast for engineers and engineering managers developing intelligent systems that incorporate processor-based technology.

Boston-based Wolf Greenfield is one of the most experienced law firms specializing intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, IP transactions and related litigation. The firm has practice groups in biotechnology, chemical, electrical and computer technologies, mechanical, litigation, and trademarks, and is experienced in joint ventures, franchise and distribution agreements, confidentiality agreements and software licenses. On the Web:

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