In this guide we introduce all the different types of software licensing models, including the most commonly used and also some of the more complex types of software business license models.
Hopefully this guide will clear up certain misunderstandings surrounding license models, as we often see them being talked about quite loosely. You may learn that some of them aren't actually even licensing models to begin with.
In total this guide features 18 license models, but if you know of a license model that is not mentioned here, please let us know!
Software Licensing Models - The Ultimate Guide
If you write and distribute software, it will typically come with a license model attached to it. This may be a non-commercial license that relies on the end user complying with the license terms, as is the case with most open-source or freeware licenses. If you write software for fun and profit, it is more likely that you’ll rely a licensing engine to help enforce compliance with the specific license model and terms on which you sell your software.
10Duke is a specialist in software licensing and license models. Our licensing engine supports a variety of well known license models and we have even created new models (check out ‘Project-based licensing below) that are better able to protect and monetize software in the modern online world.
The most common types of software licensing models
A perpetual license is one where a software application is sold on a one-time basis and the licensee can then use a copy of the software forever.
The perpetual license normally applies to a specific version of the software product. It does not normally include subsequent software patches, fixes or enhancements, although in some cases the one-off perpetual license fee may include these items for one year.
Historically, the perpetual licensing model has been very common as it is one of the original license models. However, software vendors are moving away from it, as there are more effective licensing models that allow software vendors to improve how they monetize their software applications.
To learn more about the Perpetual License, click here: Perpetual License - What is a Perpetual software license?
A floating license allows you to define a specific number of licenses to an application that are shared among a specific group of people. For example, you may provide 10 floating licenses to a company, but that company may have 30 people who may request a license from the floating pool of 10 licenses. Once all 10 licenses are checked out, no other access is permitted until a license is returned to the pool.
A floating license works on a ‘first come first served basis’ and is a great way to allow your customer to share licenses between a group of people.
It is also useful to note that when you track license usage in a floating pool, if users try to check out a license but all licenses have been consumed, it creates a great sales opportunity for you as the vendor as it demonstrates that there is more demand for licenses.
A subscription license is one in which the end user licenses the application on a re-occurring basis for a defined period. This might be 30 days (a monthly subscription) or 365 days (an annual subscription.)
Subscriptions typically have no defined end or termination date and they automatically renew after the initial term.
The subscription license is one of the most common license types. One of its advantages is that it is easy for the customer to understand while making a purchasing decision, as so many people have become used to them with mainstream services such as Netflix.For more information on how huge companies like Netflix and Spotify license their services, click here.
On the other hand, the subscription model isn't always versatile enough if you want to license your application in a more specific way. Click here to find out what alternatives there are to the subscription model.
More advanced types of software licenses
This is one of the most versatile and configurable licensing models.
Metered license means that as a licensor you can license your application with a limited access to any aspect/feature of the application that can be metered. For example, you might meter the use-time of the application or you could meter access by a user to a particular feature of an application.
A metered license can be applied to control access to things like:
Overall, the metered license is an incredibly flexible way of controlling access to your application. More information about dynamic content metering can be found here.
It is also worth noting that the metered license model often encompasses or overlaps with some of the other license models (for example “use time” license). This is simply because many license models focus on a certain feature, function or aspect of the application, which can be metered.
In many of these licensing models the focus is on time. And because time can be metered, these licensing models are in fact just subsets of the metered licensing model, as in the case of use time license.
As mentioned, in the use time licensing model a license is defined by the time the user is given access to an application.
The time can be metered to a certain point, after which the license is no longer valid and the application cannot be accessed. The user can then be prompted to purchase another use-time license, or to switch to another type of license that has no time restraints. Alternatively, the user can be notified ahead of time that the license should be renewed soon.
Another term you may have heard about is consumption-based licensing, where the user pays for the actual usage of the software. However, in practice the consumption-based license is just one way to implement the metered licensing model.
Aggregate Use-time License
An aggregate use time license is used to limit the overall time an application is used for. The main idea of the aggregate use time license model is that it counts the accumulated time taken to accomplish a task and refers to the total hours consumed by one sector or group of workers. It is also a subset of the metered licensing model, time again being what is metered.
Providing an aggregate use time license is very appealing for enterprise customers as it allows them to better control spending on complex projects. For dynamic projects where the progression of each element has third-party dependencies, delays can often force organisations into a state of software over licensing – software that’s being paid for but not used.
With an aggregate use time license the software may still sit redundant while work streams are coordinated, however, the key difference is that software is not consuming budget. Some lower-end prospects won’t be using your product continuously, and extending the lease period may be too expensive with some prospects only willing to pay for the amount of your product they actually use – regardless of how long they possess your product.
With an aggregate use time licence, an organisation can purchase a total number of licensed hours and this time allocation can be consumed by any number of users. This is why the aggregate use time license type is a literally a money-saver.
Learn more about the aggregate use time license here.
The feature license model is used to limit the use of a specific feature of an application. In feature based licensing you, the software vendor, can control which features of your software the end user can and cannot use. The feature license can also be used to limit the number of times a specific feature of an application is used.
A feature license model is in effect a subset of the metered license. It is one of the most commonly used variants of the metered license and if your current licensing provider (or your in-house built licensing system) cannot support feature-based licensing, it is highly recommended to try out a complete licensing solution such as 10Duke Entitlements.
Fixed Duration License (FDL)
As the name suggests, a fixed duration license is simply a license to a piece of software for a defined period of time.
A trial license is like a fixed duration license, but with the main difference that you are allowing access for a user to allow them to test your application with the hope that they will ultimately purchase a license. Users expect to be able to try out a software application before they buy it. This trial period might be a few days or a few weeks, but with the recent explosion in both consumer and business-focused online products, offering a free or ‘moneyback’ trial has become the expectation.
The trial period is normally defined in advance. The trial license also allows you to control what features or aspects of your application can be accessed during the trial period.
Learn more about supporting trial users here.
A project-based license is designed to support collaboration between multiple people who work for different companies.
In the project-based licensing model, the customer purchases a main license from the licensor and then grants entitlements to access the licensed application on to project team members. These team members can then access the application under the main license, even if they are part of a different company or organisation.
An academic license isn’t really a distinct license model. Rather, it is a license provided to a distinct group of people, but as it is very popular we have included in this list.
The academic licensing model is typically used by companies providing educational or engineering applications to schools and universities. It provides access to an application for that specific group of users and the license typically has different commercial terms (lower cost, free to use, throttled access to some features, etc).
Academic licenses are much like trial users in that they are either provided for free or a reduced rate in order to encourage usage of an application amount students users or, even better, the usage of an application by academic researchers and teaching staff who both use it themselves and use it as a teaching tool for their students.
The basis idea here is that if a student become familiar with a software application while at university, they are more likely to use that same application once they join the professional workforce. This is particularly the case with more complex applications, such as CAD, CAE, simulation or special effects applications.
Learn more about supporting academic users here.
Company Fixed Duration License
This is kind of a combination of a fixed duration license and a floating license.
Company ABC buys a 1-year license to Product X. Multiple authorised employees can use the license on several different machines, but Product X will only run on one machine at a time. There is no distinct ‘license check-out’ workflow.
On Demand Corporate License
This license again combines aspects of other licenses to create flexibility for the software publisher.
With an ODC license Company X buys 365 days of Product Y to use over a 1-year period. The agreement includes a minimum and maximum license duration an employee is allowed to take at a time, but total use time for all employees will not exceed 365 days.
Offline Use License
With the offline use license, a user can check-out a license for a defined period of time and is not required online access.
This license is ideal for use in the mining or construction sectors where a user of an application may be in a remote area where connection to the Internet is not possible. The time for which a license can be checked out is entirely configurable by the vendor – it can be 1 day, 365 days or whatever the vendor prefers.
An anchored license is one in which a license is provided to a customer, but it is anchored to a specific device. The application can only be used on that specific device.
Different to an anchored license, with a device license there is no human actor involved. A license is granted for use of the application on a defined number of devices.
Learn more about device licensing here.
Support and Maintenance License
A support and maintenance license is typically used as an add-on to the perpetual license. It is normally used to provide software updates and fixes to a licensed software product purchased under a perpetual license.
A specific set of users can access a product based on a defined whitelist. This is ideal for product testing with select users.
How to choose a licensing model
So now that you’ve learned about the different software licensing options, how do you choose the right one?
If you are looking for the best license model to help monetize your software and increase your revenue, there are many options available and a good license management solution should provide you with the model that best suits your application (rather than the other way around!).
When deciding on a license model, the best way to approach it is by following these three simple steps.
1. From a business perspective, decide on what terms you’d like to provide your application to your customers.
2. From the list above, select a license model that you think best corresponds to the way you want to license your application. Keep in mind it is possible to run more than one license model at one time! Of your preferred license model, is there any particular constraint by which you want to limit access to your application? For example, do you limit consumption by time, by feature, by geography or device?
3. By combining your preferred license model and then applying any particular constraints to that model, you will then have configured your ideal license that can be configured in 10Duke and used to control access to your application.
The 10Duke Entitlements solution supports all of the software licensing models mentioned here.
10Duke offers the quickest and easiest way to monetize your software applications and increase revenue while preventing unauthorised access and IP theft.
If you’re looking to improve your licensing, do not hesitate to contact us and we’ll give you a demo of how 10Duke can help you improve the licensing of your software.