Open source is another trademark issue

Open source is another trademark issue

Summary: This is open source according to Orwell. It's using the trademark, open source, it's using the open source community's efforts, the open source process, then it's shutting that down and making people buy the results.

TOPICS: Open Source

Dan Farber has a great, in-depth post up about how a company called SugarCRM is using the term "commercial open source" to mean what shareware used to, back in the day.

I'm old enough to remember this. You'd get a simple version of a program for free, but if folks wanted the real deal, they had to pay.

sugarcrm foundersFarber chatted with SugarCRM CEO John Roberts (that's him on the left, with co-founders Cliff Orum and Jacob Taylor)  who was pretty straightforward about what is going on. Here's the way the process is described on his Web page:

By leveraging the combined intelligence of CRM developers across the globe, SugarCRM has built a more revolutionary CRM application than what is offered by most proprietary software or hosting companies’ today.

This is open source according to Orwell. It's using the trademark, open source, it's using the open source community's efforts, the open source process, then it's shutting that down and making people buy the results. Attaching the word "commercial" to the term "open source" in this case negates the second term.

Dan has a great discussion going about the general issue, but I want to continue the thread based on some recent posts here. Should the term "open source" have a trademarked meaning? What should that meaning be?

And if it has no meaning -- other than what someone wants to place on it -- should we continue to use the term? Can we?

One more point. As with my post earlier today about Mambo, we're talking here about developing CRM software -- mission-critical stuff. Can we really depend on the open source process for such products? What these two cases seem to be telling us is, sadly, no.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Yes, you can

    Open Source doesn't mean that the software magically appears. If you want it to appear faster, pay developers for it.

    CRM is one of those things that doesn't fall under the "gee whiz" part of development. There needs to be some other incentive.
  • Why does it matter and who cares?

    I mean a rose by any other name...
  • Why work for nothing?

    I don't understand those work for nothing, but create predatory businesses!
  • Can you say Oximoron?

    Though it looks like it, in this case, it is not. It has more to do with [b]implied[/b] meanings than anything else. For years [i]commercial[/i] software meant one and the same as [i][b]closed source[/b][/i] software. Then some people defined [i]open source[/i] as free of charge and modifiable by the end user... This wasn't quite right either, as there is software which is available fee of charge for the end users, but they are not able to modify the software (IE, MSN IM, Yahoo IM, etc), these would be royalty free and free of charge programs. Shareware programs are programs which live in the public domain, but the end users do not have access to the code, and differently from the royalty free programs, they prompt the user to purchase a license, the best example being WinZip.

    So you can have a program which is distributed commercially, and yet be OpenSource, if the source code for the program is distributed either in the normal software media or made available from an on-line source. There are many ways to restrict how people may use the source, even when the license entitles them to get it. This is the key aspect to a [i]problem[/i]: Open Source license proliferation. Not every project would be suited by being bound to the GPL and not every other project would be suited by being bound to the BSD licenses (which would represent two [i]extremes[/i]). As such a better deffinition of terms of use of the source code for a [b]commercial[/b] product being developed with the [b]Open Source[/b] methodology is in order, and that's why the OSDL are working on that. Even if RMS (Richard M. Stallman) and the FSF do not like it. Heck, even the GPL and LGPL are being revised to yield a better option for developers and users and still keep the software under the [b]Open Source[/b] domain.
    • Tough Stance

      The GNU people (I guess that means Richard Stallman mostly) have always been very clear on this point:

      Free software, to them, means free of any incumberance - not just free of monetary charge.

      The GNU project is also crystal clear on the fact that thew word commercial is confusing:

      ... and they ask people to avoid using it in conjunction with terms such as 'free' because commercial software can be supplied free of charge (shareware).

      At GNU's Net site (see first link - scroll down a little) the legal meanings of these words is set out in an easy-to-understand diagram.

      Why are we re-inventing the wheel here?
      Stephen Wheeler
  • Open source means ???

    Open source is meaningless, Ask what license the product is distributed under.
  • Open source means

    that you have access to the source code for free. If you don't have access to ALL of the code, ALL of the time, then it can't be open source.
    Roger Ramjet
    • Why?

      Where in the name 'open source' does it say 'without cost'? If I purchase a software package, and as part of the purchase I am also provided the source code for maintenance purposes, is that not 'open source'? If not, what is it?

      Carl Rapson
      • No Cost is NOT Open Source

        You are quite right to raise this point - confusing these terms is a common newbie error.

        Open Source developers are not trying to compete with commercial software companies by creating free software. They may, as a consequence of creating software with similar features and functions, create software that competes with software that you pay can for - but that is a side benefit.

        Most Open Source developers that I have met (or spoken to) are primarily motivated by a desire to have control over their software. Commercial companies control their software in a variety of different ways.

        Even if you are a big customer, and can therefore twist the arm of a big supplier to give you access to the program source code for maintenance (which most customers cannot), they still (typically) retain rights over any code that you produce (i.e. benefit from your work and creativity), can withdraw product support so that only a small number of people in your privilaged position (i.e. their other big customers) can do anything to keep installations running, and only they (typically) have the rights to produce and/or promote enhancements such as integration with other software.

        Thus, Open Source. With Open Source software developers are free to maintain, free to extend the useful life of the software as they see fit (not at the whim of the supplier), free to integrate with any other software to create useful, innovative, solutions, free to enhance and extend the basic software, and, and, and...

        It is because fans of OS use the word free in these contexts that the word free has become associated with OS - but is often misinterpreted as free-of-charge.

        There is no reason why a commercial company should not create a software program (or suite of programs) and give away the source code - while charging for any associated services - indeed many of us consider this to be the ideal commercial model for the software market.

        Neither IMHO, in the philosophical sense, is there a problem with a commercial software company only providing certified copies of the software as part of a service offering (i.e. although the source code is free of any barriers to use, you end up paying something for your first copy of any release created by that company).

        Which means that the rest of the arguement, as a previous poster here has said, is down to the terms and conditions of the license.

        Anything less than the standard set by a GNU-GPL license should set alarm bells ringing. Because antything other than a GPL distribution is less, this means you have to read every clause, and between the lines of all the print - big and small - to be sure that you are not being sold a pig-in-a-poke. In essence, anything less than a GPL means that the distributor (commercial or non-commercial) is trying to retain some control over your software. Even with software such as GNU Linux someone, somewhere, usually retains some kind of moral authority over the central direction (and, therefore the standard, or reference, version) of the software. In the case of Linux it's, er, someone called Litmus Tea-Bags (?) - something like that anyway.

        Anyone trying to maintain a higher level of control is, according to OS folklore, a control freak. That is a little hard, there are good reasons why a higher level of control over the direction of any central OS software's development, and core distributions, can enhance OS software - because it becomes possible to defend the trading name of the best OS projects and it becomes possible to further the cause of OS by ensuring the promotion of core-team cross-OS-project developments (think: LAMP).

        Linus Torvalds has himself, of course, become a recent convert to this thinking - requesting sponsorship to Trade Mark the Linux name - in order to defend the excellent work done by the Linux team - and to provide a launchpad for future cross-industry-cross-OSbiosphere developments.
        Stephen Wheeler
    • I agree!

      I totally agree with you Roger. That is why I have a problem with the way SugarCRM is representing themselves.

      They throw the Open Source tag around, and that brings in the people... with their ideas, and hopes... and then the people find out that you CAN'T run sugar out of the box. Anyone that has ANY size company bigger than one person, can't run SugarCRM out of the box.

      There is NO security, although there is a patch that attempts to give you security. There is NO reporting, although there is a patch that will give you reports. These two items are huge, and in my opinion, you can't consider a application as a CRM unless you have these two points.

      What is a Customer Relationship Management tool, if I can't pull reports to see how I am managing my accounts?

      I believe, as I have posted in the past that you will see less and less of the "Open Source" tag in SugarCRM and more and more of the Enterprise type ventures...

      They USED the Open Source TAG to get the people in, and now they will start to try to pull them over to the Paying versions.

  • Trademarks

    Using a name on goods or services establishes a trademark. However, words which are used often in an industry are given "narrow scope of protection," and words which are the most descriptive of such goods are "generic." Generic terms cannot carry trademark rights (imagine my claim of exclusive rights [i.e., a trademark claim] to the word "bike" if I sold bicycles).

    "Open source" would seem to be generic, so all can use this phrase. If "commercial open source" is also generic, no trademark right can be established (and these terms cannot be registered at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office).

    It is quite possible SugarCRM has contributed an interesting descriptive phrase to the public domain.
    • Not for everyone!

      Using a name on goods or services establishes a trademark. However, words which are used often in an industry are given "narrow scope of protection," and words which are the most descriptive of such goods are "generic." Generic terms cannot carry trademark rights (imagine my claim of exclusive rights [i.e., a trademark claim] to the word "bike" if I sold bicycles).

      What about "Windows"? Isn't this word very generic?

      Just my two cents.
      Furball Tipster.
      • Almost Everyone

        "Generic" would be "operating system software." "Windows" is at least highly suggestive, and probably also descriptive (of a characteristic or quality of the goods).

        Descriptive terms may be more distinctive over time, with use. For example, "international business machines" or "ibm" may mean something to us because of marketing.

        So "windows" has gained meaning in the minds of most computer users over and above how the screen looks (but note "Lindows" has contested this, asserting "Windows" was and still is "generic").
  • Open source Trademark

    Open source has nothing to do with trademarks. Does HTML have a trademark? php? perl?

    A Company has trademarks, manufatured products have trademarks.

    Something can be written "using" open source language(s) an application can be open source meaning the source code is free to use. The product written and compiled of open source can carry a trademark. This means you have access to the code but you are limited to resale use under the terms of the trademark.

    In other words, I could use the code and do whatever with it. But, I can't call it Xsteps SugarCRM and try to resell it.

    What's great about Commerical "Open source products" is the fact that one has support and a freedom to use the code to write plug-ins or modules, or rewrite parts to fit the needs of the users environment. I can call a company like Sugar and say hey we need the application to do this for us. Can you help us with this? How would our developers do this? Open source means beyond the scope of one size fits all limitations.

    The application can be altered to use a different DB backend or import exsisting data. The core of the application is still supported by the company who sold the application and who owns the tradmark.

    This is just how I see it. Please add lib :)
  • Nobody is forced to buy anything

    I don't get the complaining about the free software (free as in beer). SugarCRM meets some people's needs, while others will have to pay. If there are missing features that a lot of people want, why can't they just add them?

    IBM puts a lot of resources into making Apache work better, but they still keep all their e-commerce stuff in WebSphere rather than give it away. Zend and JBoss give some stuff away and sell other stuff.

    The reality is that most of the labor for OSS development comes from companies paying their workers -- either users or vendors. If you want to have vendors invest in developing OSS, they need to make money somehow. We're still better off having the free versions of Sugar, PHP and JBoss available than if the companies didn't make these packages available.

    Open source has the potential to transform the computer industry, but software engineers still have to be paid. Sniping over the glass being 50% (or 25%) empty is going to shut down these experiments and send us back to the days when 100% proprietary, 100% lock-in companies ruled the world.
    • Terminology goof

      >SugarCRM meets some people's needs

      I meant to say "Sugar Open Source". Unlike with JBoss or MySQL, the name is different. SugarCRM is the name of the company but the product and project are called "Sugar".

      @*(@*#@ ZDNet system doesn't allow posters to edit postings after they are made.
  • What's the problem?

    I don't see how Sugar is any different from, for example, Red Hat Linux. It claims to provide value-added to an open-source product, and you can decide whether value really is added commensurate with the price.

    There's no trademark issue - as others have pointed out, "open source" is a generic term, and anyone can use it. The possible issue is one of consumer deception: If they call Sugar "open source" and it really isn't, in theory they could be misleading consumers. But the defining characteristic of open source products is not that they're free (see Red Hat, above). The defining characteristic is that everybody has free access to the code, and can improve, add features, or even bundle it into a value-added package and try to sell it. That's the whole idea.
  • Who cares

    If I understand the use case model for the SugarCRM offering, by and large their market, licensing, and pricing model is similar to that of Hosted and subscription based. The reality is that their users could care less whether the software is open source or not, just like they don?t care that runs on Oracle. Can you imagine if Google targeted their marketing message toward the open source community rather than their targeted end users?

    Open Source companies like SugarCRM need to focus their marketing on who uses the product not who produces the product. The license for the most part is not relevant here.