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Software Licensing, including Open Source

The MIT Technology Licensing Office assists inventors and authors in licensing software under a variety of distribution strategies. In addition to licensing software code for commercial development and distribution, the TLO licenses research code for non-commercial and/or academic purposes and assists authors in offering software via open source licenses. If you have software that you believe incorporates a patentable process, you should complete the MIT Invention Disclosure Form* as to the patentable process and fill-out the MIT Software Code Disclosure Form* as to the software code. Inventors of the process need not be (and likely are not) identical to the authors of the code. Each Disclosure will be assigned its own case number, though they will likely be licensed together. The TLO will discuss licensing strategies with the principal inventors and authors of the software.

The Disclosure Forms should be filled out completely, including sponsorship information, a description of the software and original signatures. If both Forms are used, they should reference each other in the description of the software.

If you are from Lincoln Laboratory, use the Lincoln Laboratory Software Code Disclosure Form and the Lincoln Laboratory Invention Disclosure Form for the related patentable process.

Open Source Licensing

The MIT Technology Licensing Office receives many requests from MIT faculty and staff regarding distributing software via an open source license, without fee or royalty. The TLO supports this approach if the authors of the software feel it is an appropriate distribution method for the software in question, provided that there is not an active sponsored research grant that would prevent such distribution and such distribution has been approved by the head of the relevant department, laboratory, or center. The authors must complete the MIT Software Disclosure Form for any software that is to be released under an open source license.

Before choosing to distribute via open source, the authors should confirm that any sponsors of the software will tolerate an open source distribution model. Further, if your software contains other “open source” or “free” software, or any software that you have downloaded from or have been provided by a third party, you must understand the license terms under which that software has been provided to you. Certain license terms have specific restrictions. The TLO can assist in understanding the different terms. Once third party rights, if any, are resolved, there are numerous open source license models from which to choose. “Approved” open source licenses are those approved by the Open Source Initiative (“OSI”), however, any license that releases the source code without a required payment is an open source or, sometimes called “shared source,” license. A complete list of OSI approved licenses can be seen at www.opensource.org/licenses. Generally, M.I.T. recommends either the BSD license or the GPL or LGPL licenses. The TLO will discuss open source licensing strategies with the authors.

Once the TLO has approved release of the software via an open source license, you may then post or distribute your software under such open source license. It is up to you to read the instructions related to the specific license and to provide the appropriate copyright/license text with your postings. Please keep the TLO informed of the website URL at which your software is posted.

Other Copyrightable Material

If you are disclosing other copyrightable materials (such as video, music, maskworks, or designs), please use the MIT Software Code Disclosure Form or the Lincoln Lab Software Disclosure Form. Contact the Technology Licensing Office with any questions.


* All MIT inventors must print out and sign the completed form. Please forward the printed form to our office to complete the submission process. Electronic submissions will not be accepted by the TLO.