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Who Owns The Linux Trademark? 115

An anonymous reader writes "In an addendum to the recent noises by Microsoft about Linux, InformationWeek blogger Alexander Wolfe has turned up an interesting list of who owns U.S. trademarks on the word "Linux." Yes, Linus Torvalds does indeed have the trademark as far as software is concerned. But Swiss company Rosch owns "Linux" for use with laundry detergents. Interestingly, both Pogo Linux and United Linux have abandoned their trademarks (Wolfe speculates that's because of Linus's lawyers). But Finite State Machines of New Mexico owns RTLinux and Linux Networx Inc. owns "Linux Supercomputing." You can also read the full list of all 204 Linux trademarks"
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Who Owns The Linux Trademark?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 21, 2007 @11:34AM (#19209203)
    Since it is based on a program called "xenix", which was written by Microsoft for the US government.

    In the late 1970's Microsoft licensed UNIX source code from AT&T which at the time was not licensing the name UNIX. Therefore Microsoft created the name Xenix. Microsoft did not sell Xenix to end-users but instead licensed the software to software OEMs such as Intel, Tandy, Altos and SCO who then provided a finished version of their own Xenix to the end-users or other customers. SCO introduced its first version of Xenix named SCO Xenix System V for the Intel 8086 and 8088 in 1983. Today SCO Xenix is one of the more commonly used and found versions of Xenix.

    Linux was based on Minix. A UnixLite OS designed to run on PCs. However, it was really only a teaching tool. Andrew Tanenbaum repeatedly refused to add the new (legitimate) features the users and even developers asked for. Linus Torvalds set out simply to add functionality to his own version of Minix (the copyright allows use to do so for your own personal use, but you cannot sell or distibute it).

    Over time, in adding functionality to Minix, Linus Torvalds found that he had created an entirely new kernel. I was very similar to Minix but used none of the Minix source code. Torvalds had originally called it freax, for "`free' + `freak' + the obligatory `-x'. The operator of the FTP server where Linus' new kernel made its debut didn't like the name and simply called it Linux (Linus + Unix). People seemed to like the name so it stuck.
  • by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @11:38AM (#19209243) Homepage Journal
    There are many. many more -- this is only a list of Linux-based trademarks in the United States.

    For instance, this list [] is the one for Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
  • Re:Hmm.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Adhemar ( 679794 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @11:45AM (#19209305)
    The logo [] is created by Larry Ewing, based on an idea acquired from discussions on the linux-kernel mailing list, for the intended use as Linux mascot. Linus gave a lot of input in the design, particularly on the contented [] look of the pinguin. Larry's terms are:

    Permission to use and/or modify this image is granted provided you acknowledge me and The GIMP if someone asks.
  • Re:imagine that (Score:3, Informative)

    by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <> on Monday May 21, 2007 @11:48AM (#19209349) Journal
    Well, I have seen ads for stockings with MicroSoft fibers...
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @11:49AM (#19209355) Homepage Journal
    A trademark isn't exclusive right to use a word (or symbol, or other "mark") in every context to represent just anything. Trademarks are justified only by their purpose: to identify a distinct product or service to people in its market. The entire test of a trademark's validity is whether it creates or resolves confusion in the market.

    If someone (reasonable) sees a mark, do they think it represents the thing offered in trade, or do they think it represents a competitor?

    Trademark law requires that mark registrants "vigorously defend from dilution" their mark: actively find others offering under their registered mark competing products, then instruct the competitor to stop using the mark fraudulently or without authorization. If the mark registrant doesn't "vigorously defend" their mark, the market can become confused, diluting the exclusive meaning of the mark, and the registrant can lose their registration, making it available to the competitor (who's then got the same responsibility, if they reregister it themself).

    Reasonable people are expected to distinguish between a computer OS and a soap. The Trademark Office registers marks in specific industries (with a fee for each industry in which it's registered). But courts sometimes have difficult questions in defining distinctions, especially in new industries like software.

    Trademark is probably the most reasonable "intellectual property" law in the US. Because it's defined in service of the consumer, to ensure the clear flow of info between the mark holder and the consumer.
  • 1. What does Xenix have to do with anything?

    2. Xenix was not (to my knowledge) "written for the US Government". You're probably thinking of BSD.

    3. Did you copy and paste part of that from Wikipedia? I swear, your line about Microsoft licensing is exactly the same.

    4. Linux was not "based on" Minix. It was always its own kernel. (Which is obvious from its monolithic rather than microkernel design.) What it lacked was a userspace, which Minix had when Linus started. So users had make use of certain Minix programs and modules to make a usable system out of Linux.

    5. Linus did not "find he had created a new kernel". (Again, you seem to be confusing BSD history in there.) He was reliant on some parts of Minix until the GNU tools became available to replace the userland with something a bit more available than Tanenbaum's research OS.

    6. I'm not sure where you got the "freex" idea from. Linux was always called Linux. There is nothing in the historical usenet archives (which are still available) to suggest that Linux was considering any other name.
  • by rehabdoll ( 221029 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @12:09PM (#19209595) Homepage

    6. I'm not sure where you got the "freex" idea from. Linux was always called Linux. There is nothing in the historical usenet archives (which are still available) to suggest that Linux was considering any other name.
    Linus has stated numerous times that he intended to call Linux for Freax or Freex.
  • by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <bhtooefr@bhtooefr. o r g> on Monday May 21, 2007 @12:13PM (#19209625) Homepage Journal

    Honest I didn't want to ever release it under the name
    Linux because it was too egotistical. What was the name I reserved
    for any eventual release? Freax. (Get it? Freaks with the requisite
    X.) In fact, some of the early make files --the files that describe
    how to compile the sources-- included the word "Freax" for about
    half a year. But it really didn't matter. At that point I didn't need a
    name for it because I wasn't releasing it to anybody.

            And Ari Lemke, who insured that it made its way to the ftp
    site, hated the name Freax. He preferred the other working name I
    admit that I didn't put up much of a fight. But it was his doing. So
    I can honestly say I wasn't egotistical, or half-honestly say I wasn't
    egotistical. But I thought okay, that's a good name, and I can
    always blame somebody else for it, which I'm doing now.

    -- Linus Torvalds p84 and p88 "Just for fun"
  • by TheSheik ( 1105111 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @12:18PM (#19209689) Homepage Journal

    6. I'm not sure where you got the "freex" idea from. Linux was always called Linux. There is nothing in the historical usenet archives (which are still available) to suggest that Linux was considering any other name.
    Well you should check this in English Wikipedia and, if you and UseNet groups desagree, edit the information: kernel#The_name []

    The name Linus Torvalds had wanted to call his invention Freax, a portmanteau of "freak," "free," and "x," an allusion to Unix. During the start of his work on the system, he stored the files under the name "Freax" for about a half year. Torvalds had already considered the name "Linux," but initially dismissed it as too egotistical. In order to give other people the ability to cooperate in the system or to suggest improvements, the files were placed on the ftp server ( of the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) in September 1991. Ari Lemmke, Torvald's coworker at the HUT who was responsible for the servers at the time, did not agree with the name Freax, preferring the name Linux. He simply named the files placed on the server "Linux" without consulting Torvalds. Later, however, Torvalds consented to "Linux": "After many arguments, he finally admitted that Linux was simply the better name. In the source code of version 0.01 of Linux, the name 'Freax' was still used in the makefile. Only later was the name Linux used. Thus the name actually not planned at all became generally accepted world-wide."
  • Re:imagine that (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @12:21PM (#19209713) Journal
    In the United States, there's something called the Trademark Anti-dilution Act, which is sort of a winner-take-all rule for trademarks. It says that if you have a "famous" mark, you can shut down competing users regardles of whether or not they are in the same field. So it's not always true that a trademark is only valid within an industry.

    The anti-dilution act is evil and should be repealed in its entirety, but that ain't gonna happen. It has been watered down somewhat by the courts.
  • by erroneous ( 158367 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @12:36PM (#19209851) Homepage
    Neither would be trademarkable (in the field of computing) because they are so generic.

    You could trademark "Computer Biscuits" as a brand of biscuits, or "Biscuit Computers" as a brand of computers, but not descriptive terms like "Biscuits" or "Oat Biscuits" as biscuits, or "Computer" or "Personal Computer" in computing.

  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday May 21, 2007 @02:11PM (#19211085) Homepage

    Does it really matter?

    Yes, it does matters, indeed. There is no such thing as a "prior art" in trademarks.
    - The first to file a trademark is the first to own, no matter if the name has been around for centuries (like the term "Windows" which was used since the original Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart demo to designate an application visual space in a graphical multi-task environment).
    - Also, the trademark owner has the obligation to sue ("to enforce it's trademark") otherwise he can loose the trademark and the word may get genericised (Google fighting actively against the "verbing" of it's name to designated the act of searching on the web).
    - The only limitation is that a trademark name cannot use some generic name in it's field (You can trademark "Google", because in english similarly sounding "pair of goggles" is an optical device that has nothing to do with online search engines also the similarly sounding "googol" is a mathematical concept. Google is unheard of when speaking of search engine) (As a counter example a "window" is part of a graphical interface. Thus Microsoft has patented combinations of it "Microsoft Windows", "Microsoft Windows Vista", etc... and have a set of painfully long "trademark guidelines" on their website)
    - Also, a trademark infringement is considered only when there's an actual conflict between two names, where both could be used to designate similar objects. As said by other /. there's no possible confusion between Apple as the maker of computer- and electronic-hardware, as the Beattles' music recording company and as some travelling agency. The various trademarks don't infringe on each other, no matter how hard the recording company tries to prove it since the day when Apple started putting sound hardware in their machines.

    Back to our case :
    Yes it is important, because otherwise that means that, some idiotic troll company that has nothing better to do, like, say, SCO, could patent "SCO Linux" or "Linux" for their product and then sue the shit out of other distribution makers or OSS projects for "patent infringement" because the others "Linux" infringe on theirs, and all can be confused because all are in fact names of operating system distributions, and "Linux" isn't a generic term.
    By securing "Linux", Linus has avoided such a stupid situation. The fact that other companies has similarly sounding names doesn't pose any problem, because there's no way one could mix "Linux as the OSS kernel and distribution bsed on it" with "Linux the swiss detergent" (although this has been a running joke in a campaign advertising for computing courses here in Switzerland...)

    In fact such a situation HAS happened before, and one was featured very recently on /. : gaim's nameswitch to pidgin.
    Initially the project started as a AOL client, and AOL simply forced them not to use their name in the project name. Thus the project choose GAIM for name, using the initialism for "AOL Internet Messaging" that AOL wasn't using at that time.
    Later, AOL registered "AIM" as a trademark for their own product (which was possible because the usage of "GAIM" wasn't widespread enough... and of course wasn't registered in the first place), and ended up unleashing their lawyers on GAIM because both project had similarly sounding names and designate closely related products (both are clients for internet messaging services).
    Thus the Pidgin new name.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!