Note on IP

Protecting Intellectual property (IP) is an important topic for any file exchange site.  It’s an especially important topic for optical designers because we’re in the business of creating intellectual property; we should never tolerate any mishandling of it.  In response to the announcement of this site, several people raised IP concerns, so I thought I should address the concerns directly.

 All files posted to this site contain the “MITLicense,” which is a permissive license, commonly use in the Open Source software community

Because intellectual property is a legal issue, only lawyers are qualified to advise people on the subject; I am not a lawyer.  Here, I’m describing my own understanding as a concerned professional.  I see three classes of IP on this site: 1) the IP contained in the optical designs, 2) the IP contained in the design files, and 3) the IP contained in the site overall.

The optical designs described on this site must all be in the public domain.  By “optical designs,” I mean the optical prescription, usually containing a surface-by-surface description of an optical system.  “Public domain” can mean patent literature or other publications.  Optical designs described in Patent Literature are, by definition, public domain.  Designs from other publications might be subject to copyright restrictions, depending on “fair use” exemptions.  Based on my reading of the “fair use” descriptions from Stanford and Nolo, it would be wrong for me to post files I bought with my Laikin book because his book is mostly the designs, without a lot of explanatory material; however, I think that publishing files based on transcription of prescriptions published in Applied Optics would be subject to a “fair use” exemption because these papers contain much more than the design prescription and because the act of transcribing from the paper into a design file requires significant effort and expertise.

I believe that each design file constitutes its own Intellectual Property.  I think about two classes of design files: those purchased as part of another software package, and those built from published design data.  I believe that purchased design files represent the seller’s IP.  Examples of this kind of purchased design file include: the files in Zemax’s Samples folder, the files included with the purchase of Laikin’s book, the files included as part of LensView, and the files included in CodeV’s patent searching tool.  I believe that design files built from the published literature are new Intellectual Property.  Creating these design files requires figuring out significant details that are omitted from the literature but are necessary for constructing a model.  These omitted details often include lens element diameters, specific materials, and wavelength ranges.  Other omitted details require optics expertise, such as proper definition of field points or aperture.

Ownership of the IP contained in the design files is not necessarily straightforward.  As explained in the Participate section, please share a design file only if you’re able to explain why you think it’s yours to share.  If someone has paid you to generate a design file, it’s probably not yours to share; it’s probably theirs to protect.  I read about this issue on Quora.  In California, where I live, I believe the state law recognizes that I own things that I make on my own time, using my own resources; I believe this principle holds equally whether I make a lens design file or a batch of cookies.  This principle becomes less clear when these resources include know-how that my employer paid me to gain.  For example, I am currently working in astronomy; therefore, I won’t post any astronomical design files that I build, even if I build them at home on my own time using my own software.  This principle might not hold in other jurisdictions, and it might be further restricted by specific employment agreements.

Ownership of the IP on the website seems clearer to me.  Anything posted - a file, a comment, or an analysis - I think becomes public.  Isn’t this the intent of a file exchange site?  All postings to this site are subject to the following license agreement:

The MIT License (MIT)

 Copyright (c) 2014, Daniel J. Reiley

 Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

 THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.