Cleveland partner Deb Wilcox, co-chair of the firm's Intellectual Property Litigation practice, authored a column that was published on July 17 on the Wisconsin Technology Network website titled, "Open Source Software: Is it Really and Truly Free?"

Wilcox authors a bi-monthly "IP Online" column for the Wisconsin Technology Network website. To view the current and archived columns from the website, click here.

According to Wilcox: "Computer source code is freely available from many originators. Software developers have access to this source code, and they may use and modify it, owing no money to the originators. This 'open source' software, however, carries restrictions. Typically, there are licenses that travel with it, containing various restrictions on its use and dissemination. That means that based on the license terms, the developer often has no right to charge a royalty or other fee for selling software that embodies the open source code, among other restrictions."

Wilcox goes on to detail the differences between open source software and code that is in the "public domain": "Software in the public domain means that there is no copyright, patent or trade secret protection for the source code, and that it is available for the taking without any restrictions. In contrast, open source software is still protected under copyright and sometimes patent laws, and may carry certain licensing restrictions."

The article goes on to provide information and resources on "certain criteria with which a software should comply to be considered an 'open source' software." Wilcox advises companies considering using open source software to consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Wilcox concludes: "There are advantages in working with open source software—most obviously, open source software has no financial charge for its use, and it has a community of developers behind it who are constantly improving on the code. So, a flat ban may be outdated in today's world. Companies should develop a policy on acceptable uses of open source software to gain from the ingenuity behind open source software while managing and understanding ownership rights and risks."