Converting/Splitting Code - Open to Closed

Ryan S. Dancey ryand at
Tue Feb 13 01:22:48 UTC 2001

From: "Ralph Bloemers" <robloemers at>

Can the OWNER of the copyright in software code that has been released under
a GPL ( change its mind and take the
software *private* (any future versions would be proprietary and released
only under typical object code only licenses)?


Someone could attempt to secure a patent on the code after it was released
using the GPL.  Assuming a patent was granted, the patent holder could then
stop the distribution of the code by requiring the payment of a royalty for
distribution, thus making it impossible to distribute the code and conform
to both the GPL's terms and the patent licensing agreement.

This is one of the dangers of basing Linux (or any other large,
multicontributor project) on the GPL; the threat that something embedded
deeply in the code could eventually have an external patent applied,
necessitating a rewrite of the affected portions of the software; and
possibly "breaking" dependencies.

The GPL is a copyright license, so it isn't going to be much help in
defending against a hostile patent suit.


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