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Open-source movements butt heads over logo

Agam Shah | Aug. 10, 2012
A gear logo proposed to represent and easily identify open-source hardware has caught the eyes of the The Open Source Initiative, which believes the logo infringes its trademark.

"Because we have different values, it's difficult to communicate but I believe both sides are trying and doing a good job so far," Seidle said.

OSHWA initially approached OSI to ask about the relationship between the logos, and not vice versa, said Simon Phipps, president of OSI, emphasizing there was no schism between the open-source organizations.

"The discussions are ongoing and it's unhelpful to treat this as a conflict; neither OSI's board nor -- as far as I have been told -- OSHWA's board do," Phipps said in an e-mail.

OSI officials are keen to devise an approach that benefits the open-source community, while building bridges to strengthen it. OSI wants the gear mark to continue in some form without diluting the brand around the OSI mark.

The OSI-OSHWA discussions are important as trademarks are critical for consumer protection, said Michael Weinberg, staff attorney at Public Knowledge in Washington, DC.

The logo in question could lose value if it can be copied indiscriminately or put on non-open source hardware. Misuse of the gear logo could also undermine the public trust in OSHWA, and the legal issues need to be ironed out before the logo is used for things like hardware certification, Weinberg said. Other organizations could also come up with open-source hardware certification logos, which could create confusion among consumers.

"In a world where anyone can download the schematics and manufacture an Arduino board or a Makerbot replicator, it is helpful for consumers to know that their [board] or their replicator was actually assembled by Arduino or Makerbot. Trademarks are critical to being able to do that," Weinberg said in an e-mail.

The opinion was echoed by Jim Jagielski, director at OSI and co-founder of Apache Software Foundation, who said that the OSI mark is associated with software under the open source philosophy, as well as the rationale behind it.

"To ensure that the association is ... always made correctly, mark holders need to protect their marks to avoid consumer confusion," Jagielski said in an e-mail. "This applies with open source software and hardware as well."

OSI is willing to license the trademark, OSHWA's Gibb wrote in the blog entry. However, accepting such a license would establish OSI as the owner of the gear logo, which could put members at risk of litigation.

"It would make OSI responsible for deciding where and when the logo can be used, effectively giving OSI control of defining what can and cannot be labeled as open source hardware. It could also place OSHWA in the uncomfortable position of needing to enforce OSI trademarks," Gibb wrote.

Dave Vandenbout, who runs X Engineering Software Systems in North Carolina, was putting the gear mark on open-source boards, but is suspending that until the issue is sorted out. The gear logo told people that the board is open-source and they can build upon it if they wish.


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