May 14, 2020

PolyForm Noncompete Licensestwo new, long-awaited forms

This post is part of a series, PolyForm.

Very pleased to report that PolyForm Project, a non-profit I cofounded with others last year, has published two new standard form software licenses, PolyForm Defensive 1.0.0 and PolyForm Perimeter 1.0.0. A lot of work from a lot of good folks, inside and outside PolyForm, myself but one among them, went into these terms. I’m so glad they’re finally ready to show and share more broadly.

These licenses grant broad permission for software source code, with two similar but distinguishable limits. PolyForm Defensive prohibits using the software to compete with the developer or company licensing the code. PolyForm Perimeter prohibits using the software to compete with the software project itself. Depending on the role a project plays for its developer—add-on or core offering, for example—one or the other of these new forms may be just right.

Special thanks go out to all those who weighed in to help us pick distinctive names for these new licenses. More thanks go out to all those—now too many to count—who provided crucial feedback on design and implementation along the way.

From my own practice experience, I know that these licenses will directly address very common requests from companies and software developers, especially those in the early stages of figuring out how to make their software a business. I’ve heard clients ask for licenses that keep their competitors—especially larger, more established competitors—from turning their own work against them. When limited to published standard licenses, that has often led to complex, roundabout analyses of how to use copyleft licenses, or how to slice and dice well designed projects, so that some part or other can be held back in secret, for the same effect.

In time, many software companies enjoy increasing freedom to license their work more permissively as their network of relationships, market position, revenue, and self-confidence grow. Here’s hoping these new PolyForm licenses fill gaps along the way, as sturdy stepping stones where once we trudged through mud or took big leaps.

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