Open source maintainers don’t often spend time thinking about their project’s trademarks, and with good reason: between code contribution, documentation, crafting the technical direction, and creating a healthy contributor community, there’s plenty to do without spending time considering how your project’s name or logo will be used. But trademarks – whether a name, logo, or badge – are an extension of a project’s decision to be open source. Just as your project’s open source license demonstrates that your codebase is for free and fair use, an open source project trademark policy in keeping with the Open Source Definition gives everyone – upstream contributors and downstream consumers – comfort that they are using your project’s marks in a fair and accurate way.
We created the Open Usage Commons because free and fair open source trademark use is critical to the long-term sustainability of open source. However, understanding and managing trademarks takes more legal know-how than most project maintainers can do themselves. The Open Usage Commons is therefore dedicated to creating a model where everyone in the open source chain – from project maintainers to downstream users to ecosystem companies – has peace of mind around trademark usage and management. The projects in the Open Usage Commons will receive support specific to trademark protection and management, usage guidelines, and conformance testing.
The Open Usage Commons will also provide the community with education regarding trademarks. Many people may not realize that the permission to use the project’s trademark is distinct from the project’s license for its source code. If you look at various open source licenses, you will likely find a line that says that the license does not grant trademark use. These are separate, because while anyone may use or distribute the source code, when someone sees a project’s name or logo, they assume certain qualities about what they are consuming based on their trust in the project. While a license is not actually required for accurate references to a project’s name, a well-defined trademark policy removes ambiguity and provides certainty about acceptable uses.
Accordingly, a trademark, while managed separately from the code, actually helps project owners ensure their work is used in ways that follow the Open Source Definition by being a clear signal to users that, “This is open source.”
To start, Angular, a web application framework for mobile, and desktop; Gerrit, web-based team code collaboration tool; and Istio, an open platform to connect, manage, and secure microservices, will be joining the Open Usage Commons, giving their trademarks a neutral, independent home that manages trademarks in line with the Open Source Definition. If you currently use one of these trademarks, you can continue to use these marks, following any current guidance from the project. If you think your project may benefit from joining the Open Usage Commons, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Open Usage Commons is something wildly new in open source, and in the spirit of the transparency that propels open source, we’ll be the first to tell you that the Commons intends to start small and walk before it runs. There will be plenty of questions we don’t have answers to yet. We’re guided by our commitment to open use, passion for open source, and dedication to being an organization that is in service to open source projects.
The Open Usage Commons Board,
Allison Randal, Charles Isbell, Cliff Lampe, Chris DiBona, Jen Phillips, Miles Ward