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Firefox faces trademark squabble

The Mozilla Foundation may face problems enforcing its conditions of use for the Firefox browser due to trademark issues.Although it maintains a policy -- which was recently criticised by many developers of the Debian Linux distribution -- on how its trademarks are used, it does not appear to have registered the Firefox name in Germany and Australia.

The Mozilla Foundation may face problems enforcing its conditions of use for the Firefox browser due to trademark issues.

Although it maintains a policy -- which was recently criticised by many developers of the Debian Linux distribution -- on how its trademarks are used, it does not appear to have registered the Firefox name in Germany and Australia. In the United States and United Kingdom, the foundation has applied for the trademarks but approval is still pending.

Apart from the free browser, the organisation has yet to apply for a trademark on its Thunderbird e-mail client in any of these countries.

In addition, the Firefox brand exists as a registered trademark in the UK and Germany -- owned by the Charlton Company and Firefox Communications, respectively. In the US, the latter has abandoned its claim to the trademark.

Although the foundation is not forced to register its trademarks, doing so would help prove ownership of the brands during any legal proceedings. In the absence of a registration, any dispute would come down to how well the trademark was generally known to be associated with any particular party, ZDNet Australia&nbsp understands.

The original statement detailing the Mozilla Foundation's creation in 2003 says Netscape-owner America Online would contribute "trademarks and related intellectual property" to the birth. However, Netscape is still registered in the US and UK as owning the 'Mozilla' and 'Mozilla.org' trademarks. However, this isn't the case in Australia or Germany.

The foundation is facing criticism from developers of the Debian Linux distribution (which distributes a version of Firefox), many of whom see the official Mozilla trademark policy as excessively prohibitive.

Their concerns revolve around whether Mozilla's trademark policy allows them to modify the software for updates and security patches, and still distribute it using its original name.

Many developers feel the trademark restrictions clash with Debian's Social Contract, which mandates Debian-distributed open source software to meet certain conditions.

Although Mozilla Foundation spokesperson Gervase Markham has e-mailed the group to "give Debian permission to use the Firefox logo and brand name", certain [Debian] developers have objected, citing the clause of the social contract which stipulates software licenses must not be specific to Debian.

Debian's Linux distribution is commonly used as a base for other distributions such as Ubuntu.

One developer alleged the foundation had lost track of free software ideals.

"It seems to me that what the Mozilla Foundation really cares about is market share, and producing free software comes after that on their list of priorities," said Julien Blache in an e-mail to the Debian developer mailing list. "Their trademark policy is something that should not exist in a free software context."

In his e-mail, Mozilla's Markham said one of the reasons the foundation was happy for the group to use the trademarks was Debian's reputation for quality. Its trademark policy says Mozilla needs "to ensure that its trademarks remain reliable indicators of quality and security".

He additionally pointed out if other parties did not meet quality guidelines they could do away with the trademarks completely.

"I think it's clear that fundamentally, re-branding Firefox is not a complicated or lengthy operation," he said.

The issue has not been resolved and is being debated at length by the Debian community.