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Intellectual Property Licensing Policy

If you receive a grant from Knight Foundation, the intellectual property developed using those grant funds generally will need to be released to the public under the open-source license most appropriate for your project. Knight Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a public service mission, and we believe that our grants have the greatest impact when the intellectual property developed with them is publicly available. This approach to sharing innovation is consistent with support for basic scientific research, which is approved by the Internal Revenue Service.

We make exceptions to the open-source policy in a limited number of cases, if your project meets specific criteria. Generally, Knight Foundation grants exceptions if another license will increase the chances for the project’s impact.

Here are three simple questions grantees should be prepared to answer about alternative licenses and impact:

1. Is a change in license likely to be approved if the grantee is a for-profit business and wants to maintain proprietary intellectual property rights?

• Knight Foundation is more like to approve intellectual property license changes for nonprofits because they must abide by their organizational bylaws that mandate use of assets for the public good.

• Knight Foundation may allow intellectual property license changes for a for-profit business only in compelling circumstances.

2. Is the change in license essential to the success of the project? What evidence is there?

3. What will be the impact of the new license on the grant’s objectives and the project’s sustainability?

• Exactly what intellectual property would be produced if there were a change in license?

• Why isn’t it possible under the default license?

Most grantees find they have no problem releasing software to the public using a GNU General Public License and a specific Creative Commons copyright license for all other types of materials. There are a range of Creative Commons licenses; for example, arts grantees generally use one that requires attribution and protects their work from commercial or derivative use by others. Our program officers can help you pick the one most appropriate for your project.

Knight Foundation will also ask you to provide it a broad license to intellectual property you develop using grant funds. The foundation will only exercise this license if the grantee breaches the terms of the grant.

You can see nine options our staff uses in developing the intellectual property portion of any grant agreement.