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I own a startup company that manufactures PCB's. We decided to release them under the GPLv3 license to eliminate the hassles of patents and so forth. Another factor is that we use code on the microcontrollers that comes from the open source community worldwide.

The question is : Is it legal to sell a GPLv3 licensed PCB to a company that has strict distributor territories ? Strict distributor territories meaning a companies distributor cannot sell to another distributors customer, no matter the circumstances.

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    Exactly what do you mean by "eliminate the hassles of patents"? And what exactly are you planning to release under the GPL? Software? PCB design? – Mans Gunnarsson Feb 21 '17 at 22:05
  • @Mans "the hassles of patents" meaning patent fees, lawyers, and subsequently suing for patent infringement. And we figured applying the GPL to the PCB design and the code that runs on the microcontroller. – theGtknerd Feb 21 '17 at 22:27
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This shouldn't be a problem. You are granting more rights per the license to your customer than the law gives them. They won't be able to use some of the rights which you granted them because the law will prevent them to do so.

As to whether distributing the design under GPL v3 will eliminate the hassle of patents, this is a complex question but we can say a few things:

  • By publishing the design you are preventing others to patent it (theoretically) but you could still be hindered by pre-existing patents, and some patents could still be granted (wrongly) after the publication and only a lawsuit would be able to cancel them.

  • If you accept contributions, you will be granted a license to the patents which are owned by the people who contribute and which you need to be able to use their contribution.

  • So you are saying that anybody could sell the PCB's we manufacture, but they cannot reuse the design and make it proprietary? Furthermore they could reuse the design if they keep it open source. This is what we wanted. Thus if we go out of business or something the work could go on, but nobody can steal our design and sue us for it. We have all the work we need, therefore if somebody reuses the design and does the same thing we are doing, we don't care. – theGtknerd Feb 22 '17 at 13:27
  • Yes, that's exactly what that would imply. – Zimm i48 Feb 22 '17 at 13:36

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