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Re: Review of policy on intellectual property rights

  • To: Multiple recipients of list <comcifs-l@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Re: Review of policy on intellectual property rights
  • From: "Brian H. Toby" <brian.toby@nist.gov>
  • Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 20:26:41 +0100 (BST)
Hi Folks, 

   This is a very tricky issue. I do support the idea of creation of
trademarks. They will further the IUCr's power in protecting CIF from
dilution and subversion. However, having spent too much time with
professionally paranoid corporate lawyers, I can see that the policy
statement will scare off any good one. They are not worried about being
fair, just safe. 

>                                The IUCr Policy
>          1.1.  Any file serving as a CIF or STAR file must strictly adhere
>          to the relevant syntax and dictionary definitions as
>          promulgated by the IUCr until the date of creation.

What happens if I accidentally violate the syntax? If I write a program
violates something, and correct it at the first time it is brought to my
attention, can the IUCr still press to collect damages or royalties? My
suggested wording here is "reasonable attempts must be made to strictly
adhere" and then discuss what the obligations are when notified by the
IUCr of non-compliance...

>          1.3.  No action may be taken by reason of the generation, storage
>          or transmission of CIFs which will compromise IUCr control over the
>          definition of CIF and STAR.

Sounds reasonable except -- what does this mean? I think I know what it
intends to protect, but it opens a very wide door. If you get Microsoft
interested in CIF and they end up pushing the IUCr out of the picture,
would you be open to being sued? Yes! Who wins in court matters less.

I think about it this way. You are thinking about adding CIF support to
your software. Is there something that you might do inadvertently that
could cause you to be accused of this? Just being dragged into court
will likely cost you your home. Will you risk it or play it safe and not

The FAQ helps make clear the IUCr's intent, but it is far less legally
binding. Perhaps a modern, computer-savvy software firm would have no
problem with what I was sent, I am sure that no legal group at any large
mainstream US company (of the sort where I have worked or consulted in
my previous life) would accept the potential liability that CIF would
generate. I suspect that I could not even get this through the NIST
lawyers to give away a CIF-savvy program.

If the IUCr's goal is to protect their intellectual property, the policy
will suffice, but if the goal is also to promote the use of the format,
I have to question it. Alas (or perhaps gladly), I do not have the
expertise to offer a revised draft. 


Brian H. Toby, Ph.D.                    Leader, Crystallography Team
Brian.Toby@NIST.gov      NIST Center for Neutron Research, Stop 8562
voice: 301-975-4297     National Institute of Standards & Technology
FAX: 301-921-9847                        Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8562