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Trademarks Considered Harmful To Open Source 226

Posted by kdawson
from the say-pretty-please dept.
An anonymous reader touts a blog posting up at PC World titled "Trademarks: The Hidden Menace." Keir Thomas asks why open source advocates are keen to suggest patent and copyright reform, yet completely ignore the issue of trademarks, which can be just as corrosive to the freedom that open source projects strive to embody. "Even within the Linux community, trademarking can be used as obstructively as copyright and patenting to further business ends. ... Is this how open source is supposed to work? Restricted redistribution? Tight control on who can compile software and still be able to call it by its proper name? ... Trademarking is almost totally incompatible with the essential freedom offered by open source. Trademarking is a way of severely limiting all activity on a particular product to that which you approve of. ... If an open source company embraces trademarks then it embraces this philosophy. On the one hand it advocates freedom, and [on] the other it takes it away."
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Trademarks Considered Harmful To Open Source

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  • by levell (538346) * on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:15AM (#27894189) Homepage

    I disagree with the whole underlying point of the article. I think Mozilla should be able to stop someone taking their source, adding a whole bunch of unstable "improvements" as patches and calling it Firefox. It would damage a brand that is one of the best brands that FOSS currently has. It doesn't stop people getting the browser, if they don't Mozilla's restrictions they could call it, say, EarthHorse.

    The article throws around terms like "restricted distribution" and "severely limiting all activity" but gives examples like CentOS where CentOS and Red Hat exist happily together but with Red Hat still able to build up a brand with some protections.

    The article ends "just like patents and traditional copyright, it's totally incompatible with the spirit and ethos of open source software.". People here may not like the length that copyright lasts for but the GPL relies on the fundamental idea of copyright. Similarly there may be some issues with trademarks but if so they need patching not a whole sale revolution as this article seems to suggest.

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:36AM (#27894277)

      I think trademarks are great as it stops the Microsoft's of the world to make it their own, which they could otherwise in a heartbeat. Imagine "Windows 7 integrated with Microsoft's new browser Firefox!" Which sounds great (90%+ marketshare) until you realize that MS can fork it, and continue to embrace, extend, and extinguish it as their own while providing updates through their channels (getting around GPL because most people just don't care and will let the computer do anything for them automatically that it can, having the upgrade channels is a powerful thing) with most nontechy people never knowing.

      I can't even imagine the scenario if the Linux trademark was like that as well.

      • by blowdart (31458) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:37AM (#27894963) Homepage

        Except ... Rails. Rails is a trademark, so in theory we now need to write Rails(tm). Now I can understand the Ruby on Rails(tm) logo being trademarked, if you don't want it appropriated, but Hansson has gone a bit further.

        On the use of the logo he's said [rubyinside.com]

        So I only grant promotional use for products I'm directly involved with. Such as books that I've been part of the development process for or conferences where I have a say in the execution.

        This steps out of protection and into control, he's been refusing to allow books [unspace.ca] to use the logo on their covers. He's even trademarked "Ruby on Rails [rubyonrails.org]", taking the name of something he didn't invent or write and using that as part of his mark;

        "Rails", "Ruby on Rails", and the Rails logo are trademarks of David Heinemeier Hansson.

        Want to have a Ruby on Rails(tm) conference? Better not include the name of the platform in your conference name then, that would be violating Hansson's trade mark. Even more "interesting" is the Ruby on Rails(tm) logo was a community effort (although the wiki pages for that are now gone [rubyonrails.org]. The original logo [rubyonrails.org] was even open source. The money to register the trademarks came from the community, but the marks are in the hands of Hansson alone.

        It's not trademarks that are the problem, it's the person who controls them. If, for example, the Rails(tm) marks were overseen by a committee (made up, as a starting point, of everyone that helped pay for them) then that would be more acceptable than the current situation.

        • by EsbenMoseHansen (731150) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:13AM (#27895303) Homepage

          Well, trademarks aren't that hard to get around. E.g, for the conference, I cannot find anything to prevent a conference of "Rapid Web Application Conference for Ruby on Rails users". From wikipedia, that should be ok since you are "using the mark to describe accurately an aspect of its products". Wikipedia gives the example "In a related sense, an auto mechanic can truthfully advertise that he services Cadillacs", which is basically the same thing and is a car analogy, almost ;)

          Misappropriating a community designed logo, if that is what he has done, is violation of copyright law. But (again from wikipedia), the license of the logo is MIT, which means that said community chose a license that permits this, much as if Mr. Hansson had bought the logo from an artist. Perhaps they should have considered a copyleft license? Still, the laws of trademarks severely limits what he prevent; e.g., "A book to quickly learn Ruby on Rails [logo]" is again, probably ok.

          I do agree, however, that Mr. Hanssons approach is hindering rather than helping ruby on rails, which is a shame because it is a very sweet framework for web services and applications. Especially for people like me who only do web as an aside from our "real" skills :) But of course, the community could fork off and change the trademark (maybe even get a non-ugly logo? :P) in a week, with very little momentum lost.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          The trademark doesn't prevent people from writing books about Ruby on Rails, and saying it is a book about Ruby on Rails on the cover, as long as it is clear that the book isn't written by the Ruby on Rails people or endorsed by them.

        • I live in Asia so I'll just have a "Luby on Lails" conference, and no one will be confused at all.

      • by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:37AM (#27896165) Homepage Journal

        rolfwind writes: Imagine "Windows 7 integrated with Microsoft's new browser Firefox!"

        You don;t have to imagine: this is what Microsoft already tried with Java, extending it with MS-only functionality. Only the trademark agreement with Sun protected Java uses from embrace, extend and extinguish. MS had to start an entire new language project in order to copy Java, and give it a new name thus losing name recognition.

        MS fanboys use C#: everyone else uses Java, unextended and unextinguished. Now if they'd just add apply... (;-))

        --dave

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by hairyfeet (841228)
          Actually we use VB6 and enjoy the screams of absolute horror from the "real" programmers. He he he!, take that, real programmers!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Angostura (703910)

        Surely it is simpler than that. There's no need to muck about with source code and forking. Without trademark protection, Microsoft could simply launch MIcrosoft Firefox, which would be identical to Internet Explorer in all respects, except with a different skin. Actually it wouldn't even need a different skin. The "new" browser could run on Microsoft Linux, which would be a rebranded version of Windows 98.

    • The value of trademarks is psychological. Most people attribute value, warmth, and comfort to a name. Consider the name, "Toyota". Immediately, it engenders feelings of "high quality", "reliability", "lots of bang for the buck".

      A while ago, the same factory produced a Toyota Corolla and a Geo Prizm. Chevrolet sold the Geo Prizm. Even though it was nearly identical to the Corolla, customers preferred the Corolla, and it had higher resale value than the Prizm.

      Trademarks are important because the name

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by siloko (1133863)

        The value of trademarks is psychological. Most people attribute value, warmth, and comfort to a name.

        Blimey! I think I'm using trademarks wrong. The ones I use just let me identify a product. You get Value! and Warmth! and Comfort!, I want my money back!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SlashWombat (1227578)
        A better example is Toyota - Lexus. In Japan, many of the vehicles sold in the USA as Lexus's were sold in Japan as Toyota's. (Although, this is strictly no longer the case ... Also, the Toyota's in Japan were often more luxurious than the Lexus in the USA!)
    • I agree, but only to a certain extent. It's certainly reasonable to ask those who create forks to choose a different name rather than distributing using exactly the original name. However, it's not unreasonable, I don't think, for the fork to use some derived name that BOTH 1) makes clear it is not the original project; but 2) makes clear that it is derived from the original project. For example, the principal GNU Emacs fork is named XEmacs. Would it really be better for us all if GNU had taken a hard line on that and forced Lucid to choose a name for their fork that didn't contain the word "emacs" within it at all?

      So, sure, it's fine in my book if Mozilla doesn't want a modified Firefox to be called just "Firefox". Maybe more distinction than Emacs/XEmacs is also reasonable; e.g. a GtkFirefox or something could imply that it's an official GTK version. But they seem to want to take this to the extent of trademark law, and not even allow derived names that are clearly distinguished, like DebianFox or something. I don't see how that really fits within free-software culture.

      • by Znork (31774)

        You're getting towards the foundation of the issue here; trademarks attempt to cover multiple layers of information and fail badly.

        On one hand it's the original manufacturer/major contributor(s), and on the other it's brand applier/controller/minor contributor. It may be an issue in software, but it's, IMO, a far bigger issue in physical goods and the other way around, outsourced production and generics that get a trademark logo slapped on them when it's exactly the same product, from the same factory, as t

    • by drolli (522659)

      Exactly. The freedom which open source is about is the freedom to use you computer and your future computers in a way you tailor your system. Nobody will be able to force you to buy the next distributom from Redhat if you invest the time to make the required changes yourself. If it is GNU you may even redistribute this work.

      If it is GPL, no matter hoe many trademarks there are associated with some project, you may redistribute it under another name.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by k31 (98145)

      I concur; if anything, Trademarks can be used to enforce branding/quality. A company trademark is like a personal signature.

      What I still don't understand is why people are talking only about openness in software, and ignoring how closed hardware is becoming... try writing an alternative to the Award-Phoenix BIOS and you're see what I mean (yes, I know they're some projects to do just that, but look at how hard it is an how many NDAs would be involved if you wanted to support most hardware)....

    • by wisty (1335733) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:16AM (#27894673)

      Trademarks do seem a little harmful to open source. It's a bit of a pain to explain why Firefox is the same thing as Ice Weasel. Inconsistent terminology can hurt a field - just look what happened to postmodernism.

      But "Considered Harmful" is a bloody big call. That's comparing trademarks to "gotos". Ouch. Open source has other worries - like web applications (online data processing), proprietary devices (iPhones), companies turning GPL programs into XML wrapped libraries, the .net framework, walled garden communitites (facebook), and proprietary file / stream formats.

      Trademarks? Big deal.

      • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:37AM (#27894755) Journal

        Trademarks do seem a little harmful to open source. It's a bit of a pain to explain why Firefox is the same thing as Ice Weasel.

        Would you prefer having to explain why some random IE-based China-made shareware/adware browser that's called "Firefox Pro" isn't really Firefox at all?

        Because that's pretty much where we'd be if it wasn't trademarked.

        • by damburger (981828)
          Whats to stop a Chinese company doing that right now? IP isn't exactly strong over there.
        • by debrain (29228) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:19AM (#27896061) Journal

          Would you prefer having to explain why some random IE-based China-made shareware/adware browser that's called "Firefox Pro" isn't really Firefox at all?

          That's a great example, highlighting the rationale behind trademarks. The purpose of trademark law is consumer protection: reducing consumer confusion when equivalent products have confusingly similar marks. The creation of goodwill by companies in the form of production recognition is incidental.

      • just look what happened to postmodernism.

        What happened to postmodernism?

      • My $0.02:

        What if MS released a copy of 'Mozilla Firefox' with a round of improvements which introduce stability or performance issues. If they bundled it with their OS (they could do it alongside IE and help resolve some of these anti-trust issues they have) they'd put most people off all Mozilla branded products in a heartbeat. Trademark protection is the only thing which guarantees you're really getting what it says on the box, I think it's a good thing you can't say "This is Mozilla Firefox" after you've

      • by pjt33 (739471)

        Inconsistent terminology can hurt a field - just look what happened to postmodernism.

        The death of the author (lexicographers excepted)?

      • by pdh11 (227974) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @08:07AM (#27895719) Homepage

        It's a bit of a pain to explain why Firefox is the same thing as Ice Weasel.

        "Because the Mozilla people have done something insane, egotistical, and counter-productive." There, that wasn't very painful.

        As you imply, the reason that anyone who forks Firefox should be able to call the binaries their project produces firefox is the same reason that anyone who forks ls should be able to call the binary their project produces ls. Anything else just causes user confusion. If you want to have a trademark because you think you're so darn good that anyone else's version of your code just won't be the same, trademark your organisation name, not your project name. FSF Emacs vs XEmacs, FSF Glibc vs eglibc, coreutils ls vs BSD ls: there's no ambiguity in any of those cases.

        By trademarking the name of the product, and imposing restrictions on uses of that trademark which affect people carrying out the normal processes of open-source natural selection, the Mozilla people have placed their own personal egos above the quality of the user experience. That's the sort of behaviour that open-source more usually comes as a blessed relief from.

        That such restrictions on trademarked product names are allegedly compatible with open-source licences should be viewed as a bug in those licences, and Debian are absolutely right to call the Mozilla people on not being DFSG-free. If you want to pinpoint the moment they lost their way, it was when they trademarked "Mozilla" and named their foundation after it, and changed the mozilla tree so that it no longer built a binary called mozilla. If when they realised their "mistake" they'd changed the foundation name not the binary name, there'd be the Seamonkey Foundation's mozilla versus everyone else's mozilla, which would be perfectly straightforward, and they'd have generated much less ill will.

        Peter

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If you want to pinpoint the moment they lost their way, it was when they trademarked "Debian" and named their foundation after it

          Fixed.

          Your argument is stupid and hypocritical. Currently Ice Weasel contains numerous bugs which Firefox has already fixed. So lets assume Debian (TM) were allowed to call it Firefox. Right now they would be redistributing a crappy version of it and who would their users blame for that? Mozilla, not Debian (TM).

          So given this situation why do you even care that the name has change

    • by impaledsunset (1337701) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:37AM (#27894961)

      Trademarks are a way to protect the brands of an organization and products. And to help the customers from being deceived. Open source is a tool that you use in creating your product or program, and free software is a way you treat your customers. How would trademarks hurt any of these is beyond me. Really.

      Copyright and patent law might need a reform, and workarounds like we do with FOSS, but trademark doesn't. It's arguably doing it's job. When I get get X by company Y I'm given some assurance that this is indeed X by company Y, and not something else someone decided to call that way. I don't see any reason that one should want CentOS to call themselves "Red Hat Enterprise Linux". I would be very happy if they don't.

      Nobody restricts distribution or anything. You were allowed to use and improve the technology, but there is no reason you should expect to use the name. Does anybody really want people using FOSS code to create malicious programs and then name them "Linux" and "Firefox"? If somebody wrote a book and put it under Creative Commons license he didn't give you the right to change the content of the book and claim that it is still written entirely by you.

      Even if trademarks did hurt (and at worst they cause minor inconveniences), they play an important role which is a bit more important than someone's ability to "compile software and still be able to call it by its proper name". Sorry.

      • by Znork (31774) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @07:57AM (#27895665)

        And to help the customers from being deceived.

        Ah, no, that was the old way. Then it used to prevent Chinese companies to manufacture cheap copies of Western goods complete with trademark name.

        Now it's the new way. Now all the goods are cheaply manufactured by Chinese companies, and trademarks prevent Western consumers from getting exactly the same goods for cheap.

        that this is indeed X by company Y

        Except it's not any more. It's X by company Z, labelled and marketed as A, B, C and D trademarks by companies Y, E, F, and G and available for a tenth of the price in China. The days when trademarks were used to prevent deception are gone with in house production, now they're often used to deceive instead.

        I don't see any reason that one should want CentOS to call themselves "Red Hat Enterprise Linux".

        That I can agree with. I would, however, like to see a requirement for a clear origination labelling, like CentOS (derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux), Blu Wear Jeans 1023 (derived from XianPing model Ping134), Coca-Cola Dasani (derived from bromate contaminated tap water).

        If someone else made it, consumers should be able to tell who did and what the product originally was.

        Basically, the purpose would be enforcing the supposed consumer protection of trademarks both ways; you shouldn't claim your product is someone elses, but neither should be be able to claim that someone elses product is fully and exclusively yours.

        Even if trademarks did hurt

        They're nowhere near as damaging to the economy as copyright and patents, but I think they certainly have room for improvement. Particularly as applies to their function as consumer protection.

    • by msimm (580077)
      "I think Mozilla should be able to stop someone taking their source, adding a whole bunch of unstable "improvements" as patches and calling it Firefox. It would damage a brand..."

      Exactly. Without a way to protect your brand you could be exposing yourself to all sorts of litigation or liability. You mention a branded unstable Firefox scenario but there could also be flat-out misuse (other software using your brand, inappropriate products using the brand) or even purely malicious misuse like branding malwa
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      The article throws around terms like "restricted distribution" and "severely limiting all activity" but gives examples like CentOS where CentOS and Red Hat exist happily together but with Red Hat still able to build up a brand with some protections.

      Given the choice of running RHEL under a different name, having to pay mucho $£, or not being able to run it all I know which I'd choose.

      The author of TFA is clearly deluded if he mentions CentOS - it's as good a counter example as you could find.

  • I wish... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:16AM (#27894191)

    someone would Trademark "First Post"

  • by GameGod0 (680382) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:26AM (#27894233)
    It's about protecting your users, and protecting your project.

    Take a large, reputable open source project like Audacity. If some scammer comes along and bundles their own version of Audacity with some spyware and tries to distribute it under the Audacity name, this is damaging to both users and the reputation of the software. Audacity's defense against people like this is their trademark. Nobody will confuse real "Audacity" with any ripoff, because nobody else can use the name.

    This also protects the developers, who have worked hard to produce great software, and who deserve to have it recognized as something special on their resumes/CVs. Preserving the reputation (ie. name) of your software project helps ensure their contributions to the project aren't devalued.

    Lastly, the Mozilla example in the article can easily be countered by the infamous OpenSSL/Debian fiasco, where a Debian packager incorrectly patched OpenSSL and created a vulnerability. This was certainly damaging for OpenSSL's reputation, even though it wasn't their fault. If Ubuntu decides to patch Firefox and introduces bugs, it's Firefox (NOT Ubuntu) who looks bad to users. IMO this is good justification for exercising ownership of your trademark.
    • That last part has less to do with trademarks. Ubuntu could "make" Firefox less stable simply by poorly managing underlying infrastructure. It's not in their interest to do so, obviously, but if it were to happen, and they didn't make sure to properly test a new release using enough scenarios, then when Firefox crashes it would make Firefox look bad (unless users figure out that it was fine when it was running on the previous version of Ubuntu).

      When it comes to dependencies, whoever is facing the user will

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by m50d (797211)
        Ubuntu could "make" Firefox less stable simply by poorly managing underlying infrastructure. It's not in their interest to do so, obviously, but if it were to happen, and they didn't make sure to properly test a new release using enough scenarios, then when Firefox crashes it would make Firefox look bad (unless users figure out that it was fine when it was running on the previous version of Ubuntu).

        And they're already doing that with KDE.

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      Thanks for posting this. I came in here to say the same thing. I wish they had mod points for "close thread, this is the correct answer", I would give you all my mod points.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:27AM (#27894237)

    Just because source is open does not give you the right to hijack the work of a team and call something by the same name.

    It does give you the right to take the source and make something else with it, and that is great. But because so much of the reward of open source is working on something that many people get to use an enjoy, diminishing the power of trademark removes a strong element of motivation by allowing names to mean less through dilution.

  • by dov_0 (1438253) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:28AM (#27894245)
    "A Rose by any other name is still as sweet."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yetihehe (971185)
      Well, not really. Giving names to something can alter perception. Blindfold someone and give him rose oil to sniff, saying it's perfumed sludge.
      • by dov_0 (1438253)
        The basic thing is this - and before any of you pedants out there spot my misquotation, I know - people should be allowed to defend their name, investment and reputation. Trademarks are very good for that purpose, in fact I have one for my business name. If someone wants to take their code and change it in a way that could potentially damage the functionality of it, then why should the original developers wear it? On the other hand, good code is good code and it should be available. I think the present syst
    • I'm no Shakespeare, but it seems to me if someone hadn't seen a rose, and you gave them a pile of manure to smell calling it a rose - they wouldn't be to keen to smell the roses in the future.

      Likewise, if I give you a non-functional crappy piece of software, and called it MS Windows - you wouldn't be too keen to try the *real* windows, would you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by edittard (805475)

        if I give you a non-functional crappy piece of software, and called it MS Windows - you wouldn't be too keen to try the *real* windows, would you?

        I don't see the difference.

    • Shakespeare was talking about the exact opposite scenario. The problem with trademarks using the rose quote is: someone can take a pile of crap, spray paint it red and call it a rose. In other words, "Anything else called a rose probably doesn't smell a damned thing like a rose."

    • by Eudial (590661)

      Well, to be fair, you could use a trademarked name to launch some form of elaborate smear campaign.

      (1) You write a program called "The vehemently evil project, closely associated with Hitler and Firefox;" plaster 50 ft advertisements about it in New York.
      (2) ???
      (3) Profit!

      If Firefox isn't a trademark, there is little to nothing they can do about it. If it is, they can sue the crap out of the perpetrators of the smear campaign.

  • by jskora (1319299) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:29AM (#27894251)
    DRM and copyright protect stuff, technology or data or ideas. Trademark, on the other hand protects a name, an identity.

    Kleenex has not been the only brand of facial tissues for a very long time, the name is protected but not the concept. RedHat and CentOS, as already mentioned, are a perfect example of this working, the name RedHat is protected but the open source code is not.

    Brand means more in some cases and than in others, as consumers and techies are at times very brand loyal. But when things become commodity items, consumers look less at brand than function, need, and appeal.
    • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:10AM (#27894407)

      DRM and copyright protect stuff, technology or data or ideas

      Patents protect ideas. Copyright protects the expression of ideas (and boat hulls). DRM is an extralegal enforcement of copyright.

      But, you are right. Trademarks only protect identity.

      Trademarks get lost when the identity does. A long time ago a Zipper, was a Zipper(tm). But it became so associated with the idea, that they lost the trademark.

  • This is ridiculous. (Score:5, Informative)

    by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@NOsPam.gmail.com> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:33AM (#27894261) Homepage

    Trademarks are meant to protect the origin of a commercial good. This allows consumers to recognize a product and remember its quality or lack thereof. It's necessary to have trademarks in open source software. Imagine if anyone could create a browser and call it Firefox. Mozilla Firefox is going to get stomped down by "forks" that introduce all sorts of spyware in the source code. Without the protection of trademarks, Mozilla would have to sit idly by as its market share gets split up.

    • by noidentity (188756) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:39AM (#27894293)
      After reading that article, I agree, and am going to start my own website and magazine called PC World.
      • by jonbryce (703250)

        Why would you want to do that? British people might think it is in some way related to a chain of computer shops owned by Dixons Store Group.

    • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Imagine if anyone could create a browser and call it Firefox. Mozilla Firefox is going to get stomped down by "forks" that introduce all sorts of spyware in the source code.

      If they were going to do that, I can't imagine trademark law would stop them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:04AM (#27894375)

    I disagree, the problem with copyrights and patents is that they restrict the distribution and development of the 'protected' ideas.

    The only restriction a trademark places is that you can't represent yourself as something or someone you're not.

    I doubt the author would be happy to find the movie he rented for his children Trademarked as "Disney's the Lion King" was actually hardcore porn.

    This sounds like sour grapes that some developers can't coast off the work of others.

  • ...The trademark allows Mozilla to protect Firefox's reputation. Anybody can still redistribute any derivative of the worst quality under a different name. As for the GPL: it is there to stop anyone from impeding access to the original or derivative code.
  • Trademarks are not a bad thing. It makes it clear what you can expect. If I download firefox, I would like to know what I am getting (for better or for worse). Now If I would make a fork that has a completely different aproach and won't work with certain plugins (like Adblock), you will think that Firefox is bad. Well it is, but it is my version, not the one somebody else made.

    So I do understand the need for trademarks. Now how do companies deal with trademarks is a different question.

    It is e.g. perfectly p

  • Your Mark (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OnlyHalfEvil (1112299) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:15AM (#27894423)
    I take it all back, I think this is a dumb idea.
    Signed,
    Keir Thomas

    What?
    If trademarks are a restriction of freedom, then me using Keir's name to endorse my own ideas sounds like exactly the type of freedom he's arguing for. So what if it breeds confusion and implies an endorsement that doesn't actually exist?

  • Attribution - you can do anything you want with another person's work, but you can't pass it as your own
    Trademark - you can do anything you want with another person's work, but you can't pass the derivative as his/hers.

    I don't see what's the big deal. It's something that an honest person or business would be already doing even without any laws to the contrary.

    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      Sometimes you WANT to give credit to the original developer, even though you made a minor modifications. For example, OS port to some hardware not supported by the original developers -- port may involve a minor amount of changes, so it would be misleading to call it by something other than the original name.

      • Then ask the original developers to support it. You can't just run around claiming someone supports even a minor change if they don't.

    • In Tetris v. BioSocia, Tetris Holding is trying to claim a combination of nine game mechanics as trade dress, despite that all but one of the listed mechanics have been seen in the Nintendo product Dr. Mario Online Rx.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    After reading the article the only thing I can say is that the author has no clue about how Trademarks work. The examples don't even make sense. The protection afforded by Trademarks to the consumer is important - more so than other forms of intellectual property. With open source, a trade mark does not prevent you from redistributing the product under a different name or a derivative name. Trademarks are one of the few forms of intellectual property that makes sense. Why is that? Because they evolved

  • by Nick Ives (317) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:48AM (#27894549)

    This is what happens when people use the term "IP" - they get things like Trademark and Copyright totally confused.

    With FOSS you're free to modify + redistribute. If the project you're redistributing is trademarked then you're going to have to change the name for your modified version.

    In fact the GPL requires that modified versions be marked as changed; obviously the best way to comply with that is to change the name.

  • The reason for this article appears in the first sentence. He was irked that they weren't too happy that he went about using their trademark for personal financial gain, and decided to air it out in public.
    If this guy really understands the topic that he himself is choosing to write about, he should be able to take a step back and realize what everyone commenting on this thread already knows: trademarks protect your own personal branch of the code. Even the most permissively licensed (BSD/MIT) project can h

  • Zealous trademark enforcement can't shut anything down. No matter how crazy, say, Mozilla someday goes with a powerhungry IP grab, all they can do is stop you from representing your product as Firefox, identifying your product using their logo/name. You can still mention Firefox. Trademarks don't give a company control over a word. You could absolutely market "JoesBrowser" and say "this awesome browser is based on the excellent opensourced Firefox(tm) code, with only the atrocious Awesomebar(tm) strippe
    • Trademarks don't give a company control over a word.

      Strictly speaking that's true. However, what open source project has the ability to fight a trademark battle with a company? There's a reason that on the CentOS web site it says "CentOS is an Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor.", never mentioning Red Hat...

  • When reviewers review Linux they often say things like "Even I couldn't figure out how to install X with Linux, how could a novice user possibly learn how to use Linux". However computer novices don't try to install software. In my experience the main problem novices have with Linux is that they cannot find the Internet Explorer icon. Once you tell them to click the Firefox icon instead they have no problem.

    I don't think that Trademarks are anything like copyrights. However they can be a PITA, and they co

  • IANAL, but I am a layman that did papers on this in college - and the long and the short of it is this mostly sounds like a massive misunderstanding on several peoples parts about what can and cannot be done via Trademark.

    Fundamentally, a trademark, used properly, means that if something you were using doesn't work as expected. you know who to blame. You may not be able to get satisfaction from Microsoft when Windows crashes, but you can at least be assured that when you say "Microsoft Windows just rolled o

    • by damburger (981828)
      Sounds perfectly reasonable; in fact I noticed in the article that Ubuntu were fairly cool with the guy, and that taking down their logos may have been an overreaction on his part as they never threatened him with legal action.
  • From the article:

    What tends to happen is that open source companies have to walk a tightrope, and slightly strange rules on trademark get put in place. For example, Ubuntu is cool with community remixes using the trademark, but if you intend to make money from Ubuntu and want to include the word in your business title, you're going to need permission. It's not quite clear here how the former won't dilute the Ubuntu brand, while the latter possibly will. The "protecting brand identity" argument falls apart a

  • Look at the title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trifish (826353) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @05:23AM (#27895143)

    Can we please ask the Slashdot editors to avoid tabloid titles?

    The title reads "Trademarks Considered Harmful To Open Source".

    but it should read: "A Random [Uneducated] Guy Considers Trademarks Harmful To FOSS"

    Thanks for listening.

  • Suppose I build a custom car, I bought a sound system say, from JVC, for it, it doesn't quite fit so I take it apart to change its proportions. Does JVC have a ground to sue me for trademark violation? No because its obvious that:

    a) This is a mod not the original product.
    and
    b) This is done for integration and compatibility.

    This is EXACTLY what Debian and Ubuntu do to Firefox, why does it has to be treated differently?

    Maybe its because it is not so obvious. If Ubuntu makes it so Firefox launches a notificati

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by davmoo (63521)

      You're comparing apples to oranges.

      First, you're not changing the functionality of the JVC unit. You're merely changing the case. It still works the exact same way JVC designed, and using only their electronics.

      And second, you're not starting up a production line and redistributing your redesigned JVC head unit.

      Thus, it is not EXACTLY what Debian and Ubuntu do to Firefox. They alter the functionality (and its irrelevant whether or not its an improvement) and then redistribute it. Is it fair for the Fire

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vrmlguy (120854)

      Suppose I build a custom car, I bought a sound system say, from JVC, for it, it doesn't quite fit so I take it apart to change its proportions. Does JVC have a ground to sue me for trademark violation?

      If you peel off the JVC logo and stick it on your mod, then yes, they do have grounds to sue you. You need to look back to the OpenSSL/Debian debacle. Yeah, maybe you're "merely changing the case", but what if your change causes a minuscule scratch on a CD whenever it gets ejected? For a while, error-correction hides the damage, but eventually you've got a stack of shiny coasters. Meanwhile, your friends who own similar cars have asked you to do the same mod for them, and you've been putting JVC's logo

  • I have no problem with trademarks because I have no problem with being restricted to not modifying a program upon distribution while still calling it the same name. That's *respectful*. If you modify a program, you rename it. Common netiquette.

    What is wrong is modifying some software, like Firefox for example, and then distributing it, and then those modifications causing problems with various things (like Ubuntu's Firefox meddling causing issues with certain Firefox themes, for example), and then use

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