Possible Duplicate:
Who owns the copyright to S[OFU] content?

Questions often ask for solutions to difficult problems. Since many users are resourceful and creative, I wouldn't be surprised to find novel ideas in posted answers. An answer might solve a business crushing problem or propose a solution that creates a whole new kind of business.

If a user reads a posted answer and starts a profitable business based around the posted answer do authors have any recourse to defend their intellectual property?

I someone were to seek out patentable ideas on SO and file them, they would likely make a profit.

Do authors give up the rights to the intellectual property of their answers by posting them? If so, have they been warned?

Personally, I'm against software patents and ownership of ideas and believe in the sharing of solutions and knowledge, but I was wondering what the official SO policy is on intellectual property (I couldn't find any) as well as what users think the policy should be.

  • 4
    Possible duplicate - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/13976/…
    – ChrisF Mod
    Oct 8, 2009 at 15:07
  • Copyright != Intellectual Property
    – Ben S
    Oct 8, 2009 at 15:14
  • 2
    Well... "Intellectual Property" is a vague and somewhat controversial notion, while Copyright is a system established under law. If your question is about patents specifically, then say that...
    – Shog9
    Oct 8, 2009 at 15:28
  • 3
    @Ben: The answers to that question are pertinent to your question. Oct 8, 2009 at 15:28

3 Answers 3


There's a cc-wiki icon at the bottom of every page:
cc-wiki http://sstatic.net/mso/Img/footer-cc-wiki-peak-internet.png

By posting here, you agree to make the content available under that license, where the 'attribution required' part of the specific terms is spelled out here:

Since you're broadening the scope to include "intellectual property" as some superset of copyright, I'll address that as well. Putting aside whether or not software should be patentable, I don't think you're allowed get a patent (with yourself as inventor) for something created by someone else. That would be a form of fraud or plagarism. That said, the current system doesn't seem to do a very good job checking that and so you might get away with it anyway. Either way, I would think a posting here would ultimately qualify as prior art, and make your patent harder to enforce.

You certainly can build your own product that makes use of code here and sell that product. Patent protection is not required for that.


From the footer of every page:

user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required

  • So under that license: "If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one." Is a commercial license "similar"? I don't think a commercial license is anywhere near this, so it would seem building a business around a posted answer is against the license.
    – Ben S
    Oct 8, 2009 at 15:13
  • @Ben - my interpretation is that the license governs the distribution and alteration of the content of the answer in the context of an article. For example, if I wanted to alter and post something from SO on my blog. I believe you can include posted source code in a commercial product with no problem, and you can certainly employ any ideas suggested on SO in a practical sense.
    – user27414
    Oct 8, 2009 at 15:24

Note that some of us explicitly release our answers to the public domain. See my profile:

All original source snippets I post on stackoverflow are dedicated to the public domain.

Of course, if my help proves to be a valuable contribution to someone's job or product, it would be nice to have my name mentioned somewhere in the acknowledgments.

In short, if you want to charge people for answers you post, you can start your own consulting business.

Of course, ideas are NOT supposed to be patentable, only implementations (disregarding the current sad state of patent offices everywhere).

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