I'm sure many of you got invited to this private beta because you had previously supported the Software Licensing SE on Area51, so I feel like this will be a useful question.

Software patents and software licensing are at least related.

So, are software licensing questions on-topic on this site?

  • I posted this so the community can discuss it and so we can have a canonical "Is software licensing on topic?" question to point new users to. Sep 5, 2012 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


Questions specific to software licensing should be off topic.

The patent process (and the experts we are working with in that field) is entirely different than the issue of licensing. It's a different audience, so I would say it is off topic for this particular project.

  • What about trade marks? They're closer to patents, for example they're handled by the same office in the US and other countries, and many attorneys specialize in both. Sep 5, 2012 at 22:20
  • I believe this is covered in the introductory email, but trademark questions must directly related to patents. Questions about trademark enforcement or trademark law, for example, are off-topic.
    – Aarthi
    Sep 5, 2012 at 23:04
  • As Tim said, why should licensing patent claims for use in software (as many software licenses do explicitly, and others are argued to do implicitly) be off topic? Clearly copyright licensing is off topic. Sep 6, 2012 at 23:38
  • One of the principal things that people do with patents is license them to other companies that wish to not infringe upon the patents. How is that off-topic? If that is the case then wouldn't it be more correct to say that the site is about the "patenting process" instead of patents?
    – ihtkwot
    Sep 7, 2012 at 13:07
  • "Licensing" is not a verboten word if it is asked in context of this site about patents (or the patent process, if you prefer). But the idea that licensing can touch on the subject of patents doesn't bring the entire field of "software licensing" in scope for this site. Otherwise, you form a continuum from patents to licensing > enforcement > copy protections > hacking > reverse engineering, etc, etc. Refer to Tim's post. Questions about patents will overlap with other fields. But the focus of this site is on patents. Sep 7, 2012 at 13:53
  • Licensing patents is a distinctly separate discipline from licensing software. There are legal doctrines that apply to licensing patents that do not apply to licensing software. The areas intersect, but I don't see any reason to include non-patent related software licensing issues in this forum.
    – user96
    Sep 7, 2012 at 15:13
  • @user96 It sounds like we're on the same page. Sep 7, 2012 at 15:22
  • @RobertCartaino What can I say? When you're right, you're right.
    – user96
    Sep 9, 2012 at 16:40

Some software licenses (e.g the Apache 2.0 / GPL 3) do contain very specific clauses regarding patents. One can terminate the license agreement if patent litigation is initiated, the other stipulates that recipients of a covered work must also receive an irrevocable royalty free license to use, modify or distribute work covered by a patent. While I agree that questions purely about software licensing should be off topic here, there are some areas where the two mix.

Redhat in fact made history with a deal that allowed them to distribute JBoss under the terms of the GPL3.

I do agree with Robert, but would hope that we take care to make sure we're not in one of those overlapping areas before casting close votes.

  • For what it is worth, it is more accurate to say that some open source licenses contain patent clauses, and virtually all proprietary software licenses contain patent clauses.
    – Luis
    Oct 10, 2012 at 22:56

Because of the relationship between open source licenses and software patents, it is natural that people interested in these areas would come here. Questions about licenses and their use should be off-topic. But an answer could be more helpful if the questioner was directed toward resources where they might be able to find the information they are looking for such as groklaw.net, opensource.org, fsf.org, or softwarefreedom.org, to name four prominent sites when open source is frequently or exclusively discussed.

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