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Ubuntu Lays Down the Trademark Law

Trademarks have recently become something of an issue in open-source circles. Debian, for example, recently took exception to Mozillas Firefox trademark rules and called its version of the popular browser, IceWeasel. So, Ubuntu has decided to address possible trademark issues by creating its own trademark policy.

Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical Ltd., the company behind Ubuntu, announced the trademark policy in his blog on April 25. Shuttleworth also explained why the Ubuntu leadership felt it had to create such a policy. “Classically, software freedom was about the copyright license associated with the code. But patents and trademarks are now being brought into the mix. For example, the discussion around Mozillas trademark policy was directly linking the concept of “freedom” to trademark policy as much as code copyright license,” Shuttleworth wrote.

Another factor doubtlessly was that Canonical is seeking to turn Ubuntu into a major business Linux distribution. As Mark Webbink, Red Hats deputy general counsel and secretary, said in 2004, Red Hat has no problems with anyone using its source code. But Red Hat does have problems with anyone using its name or its trademark “shadowman.” That, Webbink said, Red Hat guards zealously. “In the open-source economy, its the Red Hat brand, as well as its service, that carry value.”

So it is that there are many Linux distributions based on Red Hats code, such as CentOS. CentOS, however, cant use the trademarked name “Red Hat.” Instead, it describes its code as coming from “sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor.” And, that while it “aims to be 100% binary compatible,” the company does make changes to the packages “to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.”

Ubuntus trademark policy opens by stating whats covered by the policy. “Canonical owns a number of trademarks and these include UBUNTU, KUBUNTU, EDUBUNTU, and XUBUNTU. The trademarks are registered in both word and logo form. Any mark ending with the letters UBUNTU or BUNTU is sufficiently similar to one or more of the trademarks that permission will be needed in order to use it.”

Non-profit groups using Ubuntu for open-source community purposes are exempted from this requirement. On the other hand, a non-profit group that takes Ubuntus code, makes minor changes to it and then releases it falls into a different category.

This story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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