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GNU Lesser Public License and Soft IP

 
 
moogyd
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      10-09-2009
Hi,

I am looking through the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and
trying to understand how it applies to H/W i.e. Using the vhdl or
verilog IP in one of our products.

I have seen where it is stated that IP's license under LGPL can be
used in propriety products, but I don't know how one comes to this
conclusion from reading the LGPL.

Specifically, the license talks about linking with a library, deriving
from a library etc.

My understanding is (from a simple example):

There is an soft macro IP named LGPL_IP and an IP named GPL_IP

- I can use LGPL_IP in my product PRODUCT_A without restriction
- LGPL_IP will be used in a compiled (synthesized)
- I *do not* need to make PRODUCT_A available under LGPL
- If I modify LGPL_IP source code, I need to make the changes
available under LGPL ?
- Do I need to include a copyright notice relating to LGPL_IP in the
documentation for PRODUCT_A (if it relates to LGPL_IP operation?)

- I can use GPL_IP in my product PRODUCT_B without restriction
- GPL_IP will be used in a compile form (syntheised)
- I *do* need to make PRODUCT_B available under GPL (as source if
someone reqests)
- If I modify LGPL_IP source code, I need to make the changed
available under GPL

- In both cases, there is no warranty or liability

Can anyone state (or suggest) exactly exactly which section of the
LGPL is applicable to this case ?

Thanks,

Steven

 
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glen herrmannsfeldt
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      10-09-2009
In comp.lang.verilog moogyd <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:

< I am looking through the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and
< trying to understand how it applies to H/W i.e. Using the vhdl or
< verilog IP in one of our products.

< I have seen where it is stated that IP's license under LGPL can be
< used in propriety products, but I don't know how one comes to this
< conclusion from reading the LGPL.

My understanding is that the usual use is for libraries, such
as the C library. Without the LGPL you couldn't distribute compiled
C programs (for example) because of the included library routines.
(Well, you could but you would have to distribute source, too.)

< Specifically, the license talks about linking with a library,
< deriving from a library etc.

I don't know the details, but that is its main use.

-- glen
 
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Pieter Hulshoff
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      10-12-2009
Hello Steven,

> I am looking through the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and
> trying to understand how it applies to H/W i.e. Using the vhdl or
> verilog IP in one of our products.
>
> I have seen where it is stated that IP's license under LGPL can be
> used in propriety products, but I don't know how one comes to this
> conclusion from reading the LGPL.


You should keep in mind that the (L)GPL licenses were primarily written
with software designs in mind. As such, not all terminology maps well
to hardware designs.

The main difference between the GPL and the LPGL is that embedding GPL
code within your design requires you to make your entire design available
under the GPL, while LGPL only requires you to make the LGPL code and any
changes you make to the LGPL code available under the LGPL. As such, you're
allowed to embed LGPL code into your proprietary product as long as you keep
the embedded design and all changes to it available under the LGPL.

Embedding (L)GPL code into your design is a matter of deciding how the
cost of building said code by yourself weighs against compliance with
the (L)GPL license.

Kind regards,

Pieter Hulshoff
 
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Rich Webb
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      10-12-2009
On Mon, 12 Oct 2009 09:28:25 +0200, Pieter Hulshoff <(E-Mail Removed)>
wrote:

>Hello Steven,
>
>> I am looking through the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and
>> trying to understand how it applies to H/W i.e. Using the vhdl or
>> verilog IP in one of our products.
>>
>> I have seen where it is stated that IP's license under LGPL can be
>> used in propriety products, but I don't know how one comes to this
>> conclusion from reading the LGPL.

>
>You should keep in mind that the (L)GPL licenses were primarily written
>with software designs in mind. As such, not all terminology maps well
>to hardware designs.
>
>The main difference between the GPL and the LPGL is that embedding GPL
>code within your design requires you to make your entire design available
>under the GPL, while LGPL only requires you to make the LGPL code and any
>changes you make to the LGPL code available under the LGPL.


That's correct only if the application can be supplied as an object
module that dynamically links to the LGPL code. If that's not possible
(and I'm not sure how it could be in any HDL environment) then
sufficient source code must be supplied to allow an interested user to
recreate the application with the current or a modified version of the
LGPL code. See Section 4.d of the LGPL. As you say, it's aimed at a
conventional software model.

--
Rich Webb Norfolk, VA
 
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Pieter Hulshoff
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      10-12-2009
Rich Webb wrote:
> On Mon, 12 Oct 2009 09:28:25 +0200, Pieter Hulshoff <(E-Mail Removed)>
> wrote:
>
>> Hello Steven,
>>
>>> I am looking through the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and
>>> trying to understand how it applies to H/W i.e. Using the vhdl or
>>> verilog IP in one of our products.
>>>
>>> I have seen where it is stated that IP's license under LGPL can be
>>> used in propriety products, but I don't know how one comes to this
>>> conclusion from reading the LGPL.

>> You should keep in mind that the (L)GPL licenses were primarily written
>> with software designs in mind. As such, not all terminology maps well
>> to hardware designs.
>>
>> The main difference between the GPL and the LPGL is that embedding GPL
>> code within your design requires you to make your entire design available
>> under the GPL, while LGPL only requires you to make the LGPL code and any
>> changes you make to the LGPL code available under the LGPL.

>
> That's correct only if the application can be supplied as an object
> module that dynamically links to the LGPL code. If that's not possible
> (and I'm not sure how it could be in any HDL environment) then
> sufficient source code must be supplied to allow an interested user to
> recreate the application with the current or a modified version of the
> LGPL code. See Section 4.d of the LGPL. As you say, it's aimed at a
> conventional software model.



An encrypted hierarchical netlist with the LGPL module as separate non-encrypted
hierarchy combined with the source code may do it. Note that this only needs to
be supplied to actual users of your chip; not to the public at large. Still, it's
probably easier to contact the copyright holders of the LGPL module to get a
separate license or explanation to this part. I doubt a developer puts an LGPL
license on a module with the idea that it could never be used within a non-GPL
environment.

Kind regards,

Pieter Hulshoff
 
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moogyd
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      10-16-2009
Hi,

Thanks for all the feedback.

This is obviously quite complex , and there seems to be no correct
answer.

Additional feedback I received was that there is a significant
difference between H/W and S/W.
- S/W Can be copyrighted
- H/W Cannot be copyrighted - it can only be patented.

The link is

http://www.febo.com/law/Ackermann_Op...ticle_2009.pdf

GPL is based on copyright law, and this doesn't apply to H/W. Since I
am targeting an ASIC (it's all I deliver), (L)GPL no longer applies,
so I should be alright.

(I will also contact the copyright holder and check their
understanding)

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback,

Steven
 
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jm l
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      10-16-2009
On 16 oct, 16:50, moogyd <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> GPL is based on copyright law, and this doesn't apply to H/W. Since

I
> am targeting an ASIC (it's all I deliver), (L)GPL no longer applies,
> so I should be alright.


I think that's wrong.
For example, a CD containing software is just a piece of hardware, but
it's content is copyrighted.
Your ASIC contains a "copy" of the LGPL software, so you must conform
to the LGPL license.

But I'm not a lawyer...
 
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Pieter Hulshoff
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      10-19-2009
moogyd wrote:
> Additional feedback I received was that there is a significant
> difference between H/W and S/W.
> - S/W Can be copyrighted
> - H/W Cannot be copyrighted - it can only be patented.
>
> The link is
>
> http://www.febo.com/law/Ackermann_Op...ticle_2009.pdf
>
> GPL is based on copyright law, and this doesn't apply to H/W. Since I
> am targeting an ASIC (it's all I deliver), (L)GPL no longer applies,
> so I should be alright.


The (L)GPL is a license delivered with the copyrighted VHDL/Verilog design.
As such, you can use it within the boundaries of the license, or adhere
to copyright law. Wether the resulting ASIC is copyrighted/patented/etc. is
not relevant towards the usage of the copyrighted VHDL/Verilog code. As the
article you mentioned indicated:
"There is nothing in the copyright law to stop one from implementing the
circuit – in other words, the idea – described by a schematic diagram, even
if that diagram is clearly subject to copyright."
This implies that copyright still applies to part of the design process even
if the end-result (the ASIC) does not. The main difficulty however is that
the (L)GPL terminology doesn't map very well to the hardware so the best thing
is usually to contact the copyright holders, and ask them what you are and
are not allowed to do with their code.

Kind regards,

Pieter Hulshoff
 
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moogyd
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Posts: n/a
 
      10-19-2009
On 19 Oct, 11:20, Pieter Hulshoff <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> moogyd wrote:
> > Additional feedback I received was that there is a significant
> > difference between H/W and S/W.
> > - S/W Can be copyrighted
> > - H/W Cannot be copyrighted - it can only be patented.

>
> > The link is

>
> >http://www.febo.com/law/Ackermann_Op...ticle_2009.pdf

>
> > GPL is based on copyright law, and this doesn't apply to H/W. Since I
> > am targeting an ASIC (it's all I deliver), (L)GPL no longer applies,
> > so I should be alright.

>
> The (L)GPL is a license delivered with the copyrighted VHDL/Verilog design.
> As such, you can use it within the boundaries of the license, or adhere
> to copyright law. Wether the resulting ASIC is copyrighted/patented/etc. is
> not relevant towards the usage of the copyrighted VHDL/Verilog code. As the
> article you mentioned indicated:
> "There is nothing in the copyright law to stop one from implementing the
> circuit in other words, the idea described by a schematic diagram, even
> if that diagram is clearly subject to copyright."
> This implies that copyright still applies to part of the design process even
> if the end-result (the ASIC) does not. The main difficulty however is that
> the (L)GPL terminology doesn't map very well to the hardware so the best thing
> is usually to contact the copyright holders, and ask them what you are and
> are not allowed to do with their code.
>
> Kind regards,
>
> Pieter Hulshoff


Hi Peter,

You are correct in that the mapping to H/W (and the H/W design flow)
is not defined, and therefore we cannot be sure about anything. I
would therefore have difficulty recommending the use of LGPL IP within
any products within our company.

I have contacted the copyright holder, and we are currently in
discussions about the best way to proceed.

Thanks for you comments,

Steven

 
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moogyd
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      10-19-2009
On 16 Oct, 17:08, jm l <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> On 16 oct, 16:50, moogyd <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> *> GPL is based on copyright law, and this doesn't apply to H/W. Since
> I
>
> > am targeting an ASIC (it's all I deliver), (L)GPL no longer applies,
> > so I should be alright.

>
> I think that's wrong.
> For example, a CD containing software is just a piece of hardware, but
> it's content is copyrighted.
> Your ASIC contains a "copy" of the LGPL software, so you must conform
> to the LGPL license.
>
> But I'm not a lawyer...


Hi,

The CD analogy is incorrect. The CD containing the S/W contains the
copyrighted material (in a digital form), and this would also apply to
the verilog (or VHDL) source, and even the netlist (?).

In my opinion (and from what I have read), Copyright (and therefore
GPL) does not apply to H/W.

e.g. If I design a fantastic new type of Widget, I own the copyright
of the technical drawings. However, there is *nothing* in law to
prevent you (or anyone else) taking this drawing and producing this
new type of Widget.
I would only have protection if I had patented the design.

(I am also not a lawyer, and this is my understanding).

My conclusion from this investigation is that LGPL is probably *not*
OK if you want to keep your end products and company secrets secret
(there are too many question marks over interpretation).

Thanks,

Steven

p.s. Please don't take this thread as "big corporation takes community
effort for profit". As a company, we would probably be happy to return
improvements we made to the IP back to the community, but we cannot
afford to take the risk that someone would have access to our
unrelated IP

 
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