Re: Who owns computer languages? (Chris Reedy)
11 Nov 1997 14:35:01 -0500

          From comp.compilers

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From: (Chris Reedy)
Newsgroups: comp.compilers
Date: 11 Nov 1997 14:35:01 -0500
Organization: Mitretek Systems
References: 97-11-043 97-11-044
Keywords: legal (Fergus Henderson) wrote:

Some more non-lawyer comments on this admittedly diffcult area:

> Todd Evans <> writes:
> [...]
> >This reason I ask is that our company would like to build a compiler
> >and runtime that recognizes the syntax of a script language of a
> >outside vendor's product.
> [...]
> There are three things involved here:
> - trademarks
> - patents
> - copyright

I believe there is a fourth - trade secrets.

> The other vendor will probably have trademarked the name of their
> language, so you will have to use a different name for your version.
> It is unlikely that the vendor will have any relevant patents, but it
> is possible [...], so it may be worth checking this.

Agree. One thing to keep in mind. Patents are the strongest form of
protection. If they've managed to patent some part of their language
you're stuck.

> The vendor will have copyright protection for their implementation,
> but if you're writing your own implementation from scratch, that won't
> be a problem.
> The vendor will also have copyright protection for their language
> reference manual. The worry is that they might try to argue that your
> implementation or your reference manual is a "derivative work" of
> their language reference manual. I think it is very unlikely that
> they could successfully argue that an implementation was legally a
> derivative work of their reference manual, but you would need to be
> very careful when writing your own reference manual.

This one is more interesting. Their manuals are certainly their
copyright. However, my understanding is that copyrights protect the
expression of the idea, not the idea itself. Thus, I if I write my own
manual for the language I haven't violated their copyright. Case in
point: I can write a book on how to program in ANSI C without paying
royalties to ANSI which owns the copyright on the C language standard.

> [...]

Trade secrets. This one could get exciting. You need to make sure that
your implementation of the language does not make use of information you
received under some sort of non-disclosure agreement. It would probably
make sense for you to review your prior interactions with the other
company to make sure that all the information you're using is in the
public domain.

> (ObDisclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, yadda yadda
> yadda...)



Dr. Christopher L. Reedy, Mail Stop Z667
Mitretek Systems, 7525 Colshire Drive, McLean, VA 22102-7400
Email: Phone: (703) 610-1615 FAX: (703) 610-1603


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