Protecting trademarks in the open source world

Patrick Finch – OpenSolaris marketing chap – has an interesting post about why open source companies need to protect their trademarks.

He touches on something that annoys me almost every day: that a vocal minority of, often ill-informed, people think commercial == bad. I think Patrick has a point in laying part of the blame at Naomi Klein’s door.

Patrick’s main point is that trademarks are an important way for people to know what to expect. He quotes Richard Stallman:

“Trademark law … was not intended to promote any particular way of acting, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying.”

As an aside, Stallman’s next sentence, in the source article, doesn’t make so much sense, to me at least:

“Legislators under the influence of “intellectual property”, however, have turned it into a scheme that provides incentives for advertising.”

I’d like to add one thing to Patrick’s post: a trademark can be revoked if the holder doesn’t defend it (yeah, I’m not a lawyer, etc).

We should expect to see open source companies defending their trademarks. We should judge them on how they defend their trademarks. Linden Labs showed sense of humour when they granted permission to use their Second Life trademarks on the Get a First Life parody site.

As Patrick sums it up:

“Open source is not a free-for-all: it is fair-for-all”.