Torvalds wades into Linux trademark row

Torvalds wades into Linux trademark row

Summary: Companies have been asked to pay up to $5,000 to use the Linux trademark, but Linus Torvalds insists this trademark sublicensing is a loss-making operation


Linux founder Linus Torvalds has defended his protection of the Linux trademark and claims that sublicensing the trademark is a loss-making operation.

Last month, a lawyer acting on behalf of Linus Torvalds wrote to 90 companies in Australia asking them to relinquish any legal claim to the name Linux and to purchase a licence from the Linux Mark Institute (LMI), a non-profit organisation that is the licensee for the Linux trademark. Companies will need to pay between $200 and $5,000 to sublicense the Linux trademark, which led some in the open source community to accuse Torvalds of cashing in on the success of Linux.

Torvalds denied on Saturday that he or anyone else is making money from sublicensing the Linux trademark, as the legal costs are higher than the licence fees.

"Not only do I not get a cent of the trademark money, but even LMI (who actually administers the mark) has so far historically always lost money on it," said Torvalds in a posting to the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

He explained that the "cease-and-desist or sublicense the mark" letters are a requirement of maintaining a trademark. He highlighted a posting made to the mailing list in 2000, which explained why such letters are necessary.

"Trademark law requires that the trademark owner police the use of the trademark," said Torvalds in the earlier posting. "This is nasty, because it means, for example, that a trademark owner has to be shown as caring about even small infringements, because otherwise the really bad guys can use as their defence that 'hey, we may have misused it, but look at those other cases that they didn't go after, they obviously don't care.'"

Torvalds' has also recently been accused of hypocrisy, with some in the open source community claiming that his criticism of software patents is contradictory to his enforcement of trademarks. Torvalds did not comment on this issue in his mailing list posting, but the founder of a prominent anti-software-patent site has leapt to his defence over the issue.

Florian Mueller, who campaigned against the EU software patents directive and was recently hailed as one of the most important people in intellectual property, said on Monday trademarks and copyright are different to software patents.

"Software patents are a power play that benefits anti-competitive forces and productless extortioners, but copyright and trademarks generally reward those who create and market real products," said Mueller in a statement. "It's lawless and pointless to indiscriminately oppose intellectual-property rights."

Mueller warned that "anti-IP radicalism" could be detrimental to the image of open source. He claimed that some right wing politicians agree with Bill Gates' view that restricting intellectual-property rights is tantamount to communism, so it is important that the open source community disassociates itself from the viewpoint that it is against intellectual-property rights.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • What else could could Torvalds do?

    If he does not trademark Linux then some unscrupulous toady will do so. If he has the trademark then he MUST enforce it by law. How should he pay for this? Out of his own pocket?

    Why should he pay? He has already done us a massive service by producing Linux in the first place and getting that particular ball rolling. Is he supposed to bank-roll us as well?

    The whole thing should be self funding at the very least and the sums involved are trivial compared to patent "cease-and-desist" cases. Look and Blackberry being stung for $450m or Microsoft for $521m by Eolas. $5000 is chicken feed.

    So stop wingeing and be glad that SCO or Microsoft did not trademark Linux because Linus had not bothered. Now THAT would produce squeals of outrage.
  • I have a Linux(R) company, and need pay nothing. I offer consulting _about_ Linux but no products or services of my own _named_ "Linux whatever" or "Whatever Linux". Clear? I have an info page saying that this is a good thing, because it is.

    I'm sure Red Hat would be _delighted_ to pay $5000/year to ensure that somebody sensible had their hand on the tiller of the Linux name. Try asking Microsoft what a licence to use the "Windows XP" trademark is worth. Be sitting down when you read the answer.