A few blogs (slashdot) are reporting a story posted last week on PCworld.com titled "Trademarks: The Hidden Menace" in which Keir Thomas asks why open source advocates are keen to suggest patent and copyright reform, yet completely ignore the issue of trademarks. In his story, he says "Trademarking is just as dangerous as its two intellectual property brothers."
Thomson goes on to say "Trademarking encourages organizations to foster back-room deals, and negotiations to get permissions. It's almost exclusively a domain for lawyers. Does this sound familiar? That's right -- it's just like the kind of deals that go on over copyright and patents in the boardrooms of big corporations. And just like patents and traditional copyright, it's totally incompatible with the spirit and ethos of open source software."
Given the discussions around the potential trademarking of various cloud terms such as "netbook" "cloud networking" and "cloud computing" the topic seems equally relevant within cloud computing.
My biggest issue with Thomson thesis is he wrongly asserts that "Even within the Linux community, trademarking can be used as obstructively as copyright and patenting to further business ends."
As the founder of an open source cloud computing product company my concern with combining open source and trademark law is that although we freely encourage the adoption of our open source software, we still want to control our brand and corporate identify. At the end of the day this is the key piece of the value of an our source company or community. The trademark or brand identity in many cases can be far more valuable then any direct revenue, (MySQL or Apache for example). Like most software -- perception is what matters, Apple is perceived to be more secure, less prone to security exploits, not because it's true but because Apples brand & identity is perceived that way. The same applies to open source.
Giving away free usage to your brand's trademarks would be on par with giving away the keys to the castle.