LM software ownership

Byron Davies davies@pobox.com
Fri, 20 Mar 1998 20:37:55 -0700

>I have this vague recolection that the original license that Symbolics (and
>LMI and TI) had with MIT was such that any improvements (whatever that
>means) to the original MIT Lisp code was to be available to be passed back
>to MIT.  So maybe MIT has, or has a right to, Genera?  And if MIT has it,
>maybe they could/would make it available cheaply/free?
>Christopher (Chris) J. Vogt

Here's what I believe about the ownership of Lisp Machine intellectual
property, after spending most of 1997 trying to get a new Lisp Machine
company started:

1. Symbolics: As you know, the original Symbolics went bankrupt a few years
ago.  The assets of Symbolics were purchased by the new company, Symbolics
Technology, which in turn went bankrupt this year.  As recently as
September 1997, it seemed as if the asset transfer from Symbolics to
Symbolics Technology had not been legally completed, so for a time the
intellectual property rights were up in the air.  I don't know what has
happened since then.  After Symbolics Technology acquired the assets, MIT
gave up its royalties from the Symbolics software, although I'm sure they
still retain a proprietary interest.

2. TI: TI exited the Lisp Machine business several years ago.  When I
talked with them last April, there was one employee remaining who seemed to
know something about the former Explorer business, but by the time I
recontacted him in May, not only had he been laid off but -- according to
the security guard on the phone -- his entire division had been laid off.
Further investigation through the TI Intellectual Property office revealed
that the Computer Systems Division, which included the Lisp Machine group,
had been sold to HP in 1993, and that TI's remaining software assets were
sold to Sterling Software in early 1997.  No one at TI seemed to know
whether the LM software license was included in either of these sales, but
they were willing to investigate further if we would pay high hourly rates
for their intellectual property lawyers.  (It's interesting to think that
HP may own the TI Explorer software.)  Afterwards, I learned from a former
Stanford employee that TI, on exiting the business, had sold all of its
remaining Lisp Machines to Swiss Air -- but I don't know what kind of a
license Swiss Air owns to the software.

3. LMI: LMI went bankrupt, but was not acquired by anyone, so its
intellectual property may still be in the hands of the bankruptcy court.
"ET", an LMI founder, tells the story of how he acquired the physical
assets of LMI from a Cambridge electronics surplus dealer, but that
transfer -- as I understand the law -- did not legally include the
intellectual property.  Anything to add, ET?

4. Mystech and the U.S Army: both these organizations are rumored to have
complete source licences to Symbolics software.  When the original
Symbolics went bankrupt, it is possible that both Mystech and the Army
gained additional rights to the code (software contracts are often worded
this way).  I don't know if the sources could be pried out of the U.S. Army
under the Freedom of Information Act, nor what this would mean as far as
intellectual property rights.

Anybody know anything contrary or additional?