Licensing a compiler which outputs code of a pre-existing programming language


This is a cross-post from stackoverflow; I was told you guys might be more knowlegable in this area...

I have an idea for a project which, ideally, I would like to eventually make money from.

Without getting into explicit detail, I am planning on developing a language which - when compiled (not sure if this is the correct terminology) - produces one or more known programming languages, such as (for example) Java.

Are there legal restrictions I could run into? Say I release this "solution" free of charge to normal users... could I license it for companies to use?

I am asking because I have been told that copyrights exist more-so to protect the "method" of arriving at a solution, as opposed to the solution itself, and - to me - this is exactly what I intend on doing?

In summary, I want to develop a high-level programming language which produces code written in other pre-existing programming languages as output. Am I able to legally charge money under certain circumstances for this technology?

Software Legal Copyright Software Licensing

asked Apr 14 '13 at 14:52
16 points
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  • You mean like the Objective-C & C++ compilers during their formative days? That is creating a new language ("Objective-C") that compiles to a pre-existing language ("C") ? This is a long-time proven business model and should work, barring any patent issues of the "target" language. – Adib 8 years ago

1 Answer


Alright, so your idea is a programming language which gets transcoded to another programming language -- kind of like CoffeScript to Javascript, Less to CSS, or Google Web Toolkit Java to Javascript.

As you can see by the prior work I mentioned, there is no copyright problem here. I would suggest you have a quick look at this post about types of intellectual property to get a clearer picture. Also have a look at the Copyright tag.

Where you might get into problems is with patents. Cross-compilers were a very busy commercial field some time ago, and it's entirely possible that some large companies hold patents on certain optimizations and general methods. Again, have a look at the Patent tag.

Performing a global, comprehensive search for prior patents is nearly impossible for a resource-weak startup. Most web- & software startups simply take a chance and launch a product without checking for prior patents.

answered Apr 14 '13 at 18:03
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points

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Software Legal Copyright Software Licensing