The Defensive Patent Licence (DPL) will be formally launched on February 28, 2014 at a conference in Berkeley. It is a patent license proposed by directors of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley. It is being promoted as a patent licensing equivalent of the GPL copyright license. Note that GPL licenses aims at giving unlimited freedom to use, study, and privately modify the software to its users. If the user adheres strictly to its terms and conditions, he may also freely redistribute and modify the software. DPL, on the other hand, is quite an intriguing idea that can significantly improve the so-called broken patent system.
Copyrights protect software inventions in US and most parts of the world, except those in the public domain. So, if one has to access any software, a typical software license is to be taken. It is a legal instrument that permits an end-user to use one or more copies of software in ways where such a use would otherwise potentially constitute copyright infringement of the software owner’s exclusive rights under copyright law. Software licenses are generally categorized into proprietary licenses and free and open source. GPL belongs to the latter and as aforementioned allows the end-user to further distribute or copy the software.
Defensive Patent License – How it’s Different?
DPL is a complementary approach with the following salient features:
• All DPL users are required to grant royalty-free licenses (except for the purpose of cloning products) for their entire patent portfolio to all other DPL participants. However, an entity doesn’t need any patents to become a DPL user. But so that DPL members remain on the same level as non-members, they have the right to monetize their inventions and sue non-members.
• The license grant is irrevocable, unless the licensee (another DPL user) withdraws from the DPL or initiates patent litigation against any DPL user. Initiating an offensive patent lawsuit against other members of the league would be grounds for the member to have its license revoked.
Thus, we see that though DPL may not attract or incentivize big companies with loads of patents but would definitely help startups who are willingly to practice defensive patent licensing. Big players such as Red Hat, Sony, and IBM have joined a similar patent consortium called the Open Invention Network , but they aren’t required to commit all of their patents to that group. Sometime back Twitter also took up quite a similar initiative. It pledged not to use any of its patents derived from employee inventions to launch offensive lawsuits without the inventor’s permission.
DPL is not opposed to intellectual property rights, per se. It simply aims to make defensive use of patents to curb the offensive patent litigation. It is an alternative approach that every legitimate inventor must take so that others can’t claim ownership of ideas and technologies they didn’t create. In the short term, DPL might have little impact but it’s a nice innovation that is worth considering because there is huge possibility of this pool becoming significant over time and gaining strong network effects.