One of the very interesting issues-du-jour is the interaction between the three “legs” of “intellectual property”. Traditionally, those three are copyrights, patents and trademarks, and they have quite different laws and contractual precedents that are associated with them.
Recently, however, I’ve observed an increase in the cross-talk between them.
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 Mozilla’s trademark policy was directly linking the concept of “freedom” to trademark policy as much as code copyright license. And much of the very hard debate in the GPLv3 process is about linkages between copyright license and relevant patents. And like it or not, the GPL is widely considered the reference implementation of freedom so GPLv3’s approach will be, for many, definitive on the subject.
In the Ubuntu community we’ve recently gone through a process to agree a trademark policy. This was recently approved by the Community Council, and the final draft is here:
We’ve tried to strike a balance that keeps the trademarks of Ubuntu meaningful (i.e. if it says Ubuntu, it really is Ubuntu) but also recognizes the fact that Ubuntu is a shared work, in which many different participants of our community make a personal investment, and which they should have the right to share. So we’ve made explicit the idea of a remix – a reworking of Ubuntu that addresses the needs of a specific community (could be national, could be an industry like medical or educational) but preserves the key things that people would expect from Ubuntu, like hardware support and certification.
I’m sure this isn’t the last word on the subject, but I hope it’s a useful contribution to the debate, and would welcome other projects adopting similar licenses. For that reason, our trademark license is published under the Creative Commons Sharealike with Attribution license (CC-BY-SA).