Trademarks are a problem for free software, because there is a tension between a desire to encourage sharing of the software, and a need to ensure that people are not misled over what exactly that software is. For example, you don't want people distributing modified copies of your code claiming that it is your code, or that it is approved by you – in the worst cases, it might contain malware, for example.
Some, like the Debian project, have grappled with this thorny issue repeatedly over the years – there's an interesting page devoted to the subject on its site. The Python project, by contrast, has been less engaged, and is now facing some serious problems, as Van Lindberg, Chairman of the Python Software Foundation, explained last week:
There is a company in the UK that is trying to trademark the use of the term "Python" for all software, services, servers... pretty much anything having to do with a computer. Specifically, it is the company that got a hold on the python.co.uk domain 13 years ago. At that time we weren't looking a lot at trademark issues, and so we didn't get that domain.
This hasn't been an issue since then because the python.co.uk domain has, for most of its life, just forwarded its traffic on to the parent companies, veber.co.uk and pobox.co.uk. Unfortunately, Veber has decided that they want to start using the name "Python" for their server products.
We contacted the owners of python.co.uk repeatedly and tried to discuss the matter with them. They blew us off and responded by filing the community trademark application claiming the exclusive right to use "Python" for software, servers, and web services – everywhere in Europe.
Now, as most readers will know, Python goes right back to the beginning of the 1990s – there's an entire site devoted to retelling its history, written mostly by its creator, Guido van Rossum. That means it should be easy to show that the name "Python" has been associated with the open source programming language for over two decades. But to preserve the Python trademark, the Python Software Foundation needs proof, ideally lots of it – and that's where you come in:
According to our London counsel, some of the best pieces of evidence we can submit to the European trademark office are official letters from well-known companies "using PYTHON branded software in various member states of the EU" so that we can "obtain independent witness statements from them attesting to the trade origin significance of the PYTHON mark in connection with the software and related goods/services." We also need evidence of use throughout the EU.
Specifically, these are some of the ways in which you could help:
1. Do you work for a company that uses Python? Are in the EU, do you hire in the EU, or do you have an office in the EU? Could you write a letter on company letterhead that we can forward to our EU counsel?
We would want:
1. just a brief description of how Python is used at your company,
2. how your company looks for and recognizes "Python" as only coming from the PSF, and
3. your view that another company using term Python to refer to services, software, and servers would be confusing
This doesn't need to be long – just a couple of paragraphs, but we would want any description of how you use Python for software, web hosting, Internet servers, VPNs, design and development of computer hardware or software, hosting websites, renting servers (like Openstack), or backup services. For those who are interested the specific class descriptions are at the bottom of this message.
You can send a PDF copy of the letter to email@example.com
2. Do you have, or know of, anything that was published in the EU and uses "Python" to refer to Python-the-language? Can we get copies, pictures, or scans? This includes:
Conference programs or talks
Magazines or other publications
You can send a PDF scan of the materials to firstname.lastname@example.org
3. You can also help protect the Python intellectual property with financial support.
Since the costs of a trademark opposition are in the range of tens of thousands of dollars, we will need to find a way to refinance the legal costs of the opposition.
Please consider donating to the Python Software Foundation at:
or get in touch with me directly.
This is the first time the PSF has to take legal action to protect Python's intellectual property. Please do consider helping the PSF in any way you can. The threat is real and can potentially harm your business in Europe, especially if you are in the web hosting business and provide Python as part of your hosting plans.
If you would like to discuss any of the above, or think you can help in other ways, you can contact Lindberg at email@example.com.
Time is running short to defend Python, but with help from those who have been using Python for years, let's hope it's possible to protect the name in Europe for the project and its community. And maybe this could serve as a wake-up call for other projects that protecting trademarks – however boring it may seem – is vital if this kind of problem is to be avoided.