Kurt von Finck: MariaDB And Trademark

I’d like to wish Henrik Ingo well now that he has publicly announced his resignation from Monty Program. Henrik, I especially wish you all the best with the new member of your family.

I know you put a lot of effort into your presentation to the Monty Program board regarding transfer of trademark ownership, and you know (and I do not mind saying externally) that I supported transfer to a non-profit designed for such purposes. Our informal, non-inclusive vote in Istanbul aside, I think the company as a whole should put a lot of thought into such matters. I would always hope the board would do the same.

And it is my understanding that this is what is happening. Not that the board made a final decision to maintain trademark ownership, but that they decided more research and discussion are needed. And despite my knee-jerk reaction to go the Debian trademark route, I came to Monty Program from Canonical. Wiser legal and business minds have decided to retain the Ubuntu trademark for Canonical. Just as Red Hat has retained the Fedora trademark. So despite my inclinations I have to ask why others have chosen differently.

Trademark has value, and not just to investors. Spoofy domains exist for a reason. And I have to admit to trusting Canonical and Red Hat to protect their marks better than, again, Debian (SPI owns but does not manage).

This leads to two questions. First, who actually manages trademark issues? If organizations own but do not manage, in practicality if Monty Program transferred ownership of the MariaDB trademark, Monty Program would still be in the position of managing it. I have doubts about community-only enforcement of trademark issues (Debian people, you there?). So either way, people have to have faith in Monty Program handling their trademark management sanely. It’s not about ownership, it’s about management. Which leads to question two.

What is sane trademark management? Trusting a company to protect a mark is useless if you don’t trust the company. How far is too far, and who do you trust? Canonical and Red Hat both have clearly stated guidelines vis-a-vis use of their respective marks. Monty Program does not. So regardless of who actually owns the MariaDB trademark, MariaDB needs a trademark policy so that those who wish to use the trademark understand how the mark is managed.

Personally I think Canonical and Red Hat enforce their trademarks sanely. There does not seem to be much objection to the Ubuntu and Fedora trademark guidelines from the community at large. If MySQL made mistakes with regard to their trademark policy and management of it, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that Monty Program will necessarily repeat those same mistakes.

Of course, everyone has a different definition of “sane.” Monty Program employees, the company board, and the community have to decide what is sane for themselves. So I find myself in agreement with the board. We probably need more time to actually draft a trademark policy, and to discuss the real benefits and possible issues of any potential transfer. I’m beginning to think “the other guy does it,” or (“didn’t do it”) isn’t enough.

Fortunately, the need for a trademark policy has been known for some time. We are looking at various other projects’ policies, and will probably borrow liberally from our Free/open source peers. It is my hope that a draft trademark policy will be made available for community comment early in 2011, after employees have a chance to help create that initial draft. Colin and I have been driving most of this, and unless I have misunderstood some of the salient points, we have been told to create a draft that assures:

1). The MariaDB (and other Monty Program managed marks) always entertain fair use gracefully.

2). The MariaDB trademark is made available to users, hackers, companies and products as long as the usage doesn’t conflict with other usage, and the trademark licensor keeps a level of quality and follows well established open source conduct.

3). The marks will always be available, via a “public promise” approach to ownership transfer (should ownership not have been transferred from Monty Program previously). Failure of the company, or failure of the company to deliver, ends exclusive mark ownership.

4). Everyone understands what “fair use,” “made available,” “beneficial ways,” and “public promise” mean above, and to where mark ownership will revert. We have yet to really define what will trigger the switch. That will be presented in draft form, also, I am sure.

MariaDB will only survive if people hack it and use it, and are able to say they hack it and use it. We want this. Our trademark policy will reflect it, and assure that Monty Program can’t run off with the mark, or let it wither and die. But training, professional certifications, hardware certifications? These require trademark management. It’s probably a primary factor in the lack of official Debian certs. And no offense meant to you Debian, trademark management isn’t something I want to do, either. Good management starts with a sane policy. And we will have a policy soon.

I don’t think MariaDB and/or Monty Program are that far off-course. And I’m too involved in making MariaDB succeed to quit now.

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