Tar-Baby License

In Tales of Uncle Remus, an 1881 anthology of African-American stories, songs, and oral folklore, collected and  compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, there is a well known tale of a doll, a baby made of tar (i.e., bitumen, which in its raw state is known for its adhesive qualities), which ‘Brer-Fox’ tricks ‘Brer-Rabbit’ into touching. Brer-Rabbit then finds that the tar-baby is so sticky and contaminating that there is no way to detach himself from it.

A tar-baby license is usually a license of know-how or trade-secrets that is drafted in such a way that it is extraordinarily difficult for a licensee to subsequently develop a product, for example using a clean room, that is not subject to the license, its restrictions and provisions. A defining feature of a “tar-baby license” is the absence of a “residuals clause” or that clause’s limited nature. One or two software and computer manufacturers are notorious for using tar-baby licenses for access to technical information.

A recent political controversy in the United States arose over suggested racist connotations of the term “tar-baby” in some contexts, while many of Chandler-Harris’ stories have been described as at least patronising of African American culture – the term should therefore be used with caution. See, Click License, Shrink-Wrap License, Browse-Wrap License.

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