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Intellectual property rights

A basic guide to the complex subject of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and the IETF. This is not legal advice.

The rights participants grant to the IETF

This section draws on BCP 78: Rights Contributors Provide to the IETF Trust, which should be consulted for further detail.

This section makes regular reference to the IETF Trust, the separate legal entity that holds and grants rights on behalf of the IETF.


Almost everything you provide to the IETF, as set out below, is classified as a Contribution and therefore includes a basic grant of rights to the IETF Trust for that contribution.

Section 1 of BCP 78 formally defines a Contribution as:

any submission to the IETF intended by the Contributor for publication as all or part of an Internet-Draft or RFC [...] and any statement made within the context of an IETF activity. Such statements include oral statements in IETF sessions as well as written and electronic communications, made at any time or place, that are addressed to:
* the IETF plenary session,
* any IETF working group or portion thereof,
* any Birds of a Feather (BOF) session,
* the IESG, or any member thereof on behalf of the IESG,
* the IAB, or any member thereof on behalf of the IAB,
* any IETF mailing list, including the IETF list itself, any working group or design team list, or any other list functioning under IETF auspices,
* the RFC Editor or the Internet-Drafts function [...].

Basic grant of rights to the IETF Trust

As explained in Section 5.3 of BCP 78, when a contribution is made, the contributor grants the following to the IETF Trust:

a perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, world-wide, sublicensable right and license to the IETF Trust under all such copyrights and other rights in the Contribution:
a. to copy, publish, display, and distribute the Contribution, in whole or in part,
b. to prepare translations of the Contribution into languages other than English, in whole or in part, and to copy, publish, display, and distribute such translations or portions thereof,


d. to reproduce any trademarks, service marks, or trade names which are included in the Contribution solely in connection with the reproduction, distribution, or publication of the Contribution and derivative works thereof as permitted by this Section 5.3, provided that when reproducing Contributions, trademark and service mark identifiers used in the Contribution, including TM and (R), will be preserved.

As noted, this grant of rights cannot be revoked.

Rights to derivative works

By default, making a contribution grants to the IETF Trust the following rights regarding derivative works based on that contribution (bullet c. from above):

c. to modify or prepare derivative works (in addition to translations) that are based on or incorporate all or part of the Contribution, and to copy, publish, display, and distribute such derivative works, or portions thereof [...]

When an Internet-Draft is submitted, this right to create derivative works can be limited or explicitly disallowed, by the incorporation of a specific notice in the I-D. Doing this has significant implications for how an Internet-Draft may be used by the IETF, as explained in Section 3.3 of BCP 78:

The right to produce derivative works, in addition to translations, is required for all IETF Standards Track documents and for most IETF non-Standards Track documents. There are two exceptions to this requirement: documents describing proprietary technologies and documents that are republications of the work of other standards organizations.

It is also possible to specify a more liberal license for derivative works if the Internet-Draft is intended as an Independent Submission. This too has significant implications for how an Internet-Draft may be used by the IETF.

IETF Trust licensing of Contributions

The IETF Trust grants specific licenses to IETF contributions as set out in the Trust Legal Provisions. The Trust FAQ provides significant additional detail and context.

The Licenses For Use Outside the IETF Standards Process only allow someone to copy and distribute IETF Contributions and IETF Documents in full and without modification; to produce translations into other languages and publish those in full and without modification; and to copy and distribute unmodified portions of IETF Contributions and IETF Documents with certain restrictions.

The License For Use Within the IETF Standards Process allows for all the same uses and additionally, unless explicitly disallowed in a notice in the document, allows for the creation of derivative works as part of the IETF standards process.

There are also specific licenses for the use of code components.

Note that the IETF Trust retains copyright of the format of RFCs and Internet-Drafts.

Licensing of other IETF Trust assets

The IETF Trust claims trademark rights in the IETF logo and acronym and provides licenses and usage guidance for the IETF logo and acronym.

The IETF also makes available a set of Supporter Badges and Protocol Badges, with specific license terms.


This sections draws on BCP 79: Intellectual Property Rights in IETF Technology, which should be consulted for further detail.

The grants of rights covered above, do not affect rights to patented technology.

During the standards process any IETF contribution covered by patents or patent applications owned by a participant or their sponsor must be disclosed, or they must refrain from participating. A contribution is any submission to the IETF that is intended for publication as all or part of an Internet-Draft or an RFC, or any statement made within the context of an IETF activity such as a working group discussion on a mailing list or during a meeting. The IETF Datatracker maintains a list of IPR disclosures made to the IETF.

Section 7 of BCP 79 explains in general how IPR claims may impact the standards process:

In general, IETF working groups prefer technologies with no known IPR claims or, for technologies with claims against them, an offer of royalty-free licensing. However, to solve a given technical problem, IETF working groups have the discretion to adopt a technology as to which IPR claims have been made if they feel that this technology is superior enough to alternatives with fewer IPR claims or free licensing to outweigh the potential cost of the licenses.

Despite precautions, sometimes patents appear after a standard has been established and there is little the IETF can do about that.

If the authors of an Internet-Draft knows of a patent that applies to the technology being written about, that patent should not be listed in the document. This is because RFCs never change after they are published, while knowledge of IPR can change at any time. Therefore, an IPR list in an RFC could be incomplete and mislead the reader. BCP 79 provides specific text that should be added to RFCs where the author knows of IPR issues.

Getting help

No part of the IETF can provide legal advice to an IETF participant but there are a number of avenues to seek clarification around IETF processes.

Any questions or concerns regarding specific IPR or a specific document should go to the relevant WG Chair(s) or the responsible AD(s). They can, if necessary, call on IETF Counsel to assist them in responding and the AD can escalate to the IESG if required.

More general questions about IPR and licensing should be put to the IETF Trust. either directly or on the tlp-interest mailing list.