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Google commits to protecting open source projects

Initiative to trademark projects aims to stop public cloud providers from offering their own managed service version of open source code

Google has put its might behind an initiative to protect the integrity of open source projects.

The decision to protect open source project trademarks comes after a number of highly successful projects were affected by public cloud providers undercutting the revenue stream of the project maintainers by offering managed services. 

Last year, the New York Times described how Amazon Web Services (AWS) had copied and integrated open source software from Elastic into its own Elasticsearch service.

As Computer Weekly has reported previously, MongoDB and Redis both changed their products to differentiate between the freely distributed version and a licence that explicitly covers organisations that want to use the product in a managed service.

According to Google, understanding and managing trademarks is critical for the long-term sustainability of projects, particularly with the increasing number of enterprise products based on open source. The initiative, called Open Usage Commons, aims to extend the philosophy and definition of open source to project trademarks. 

Members of the Open Usage Commons board include Chris DiBona, director of open source at Google; Miles Ward, former Google Cloud director of solutions; Cliff Lampe, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan; and Allison Randal, an open source software developer and strategist, and board member at the Software Freedom Conservancy.

The board members said Open Usage Commons will also cover education regarding trademarks.

“Many people may not realise that the permission to use the project’s trademark is distinct from the project’s licence for its source code. If you look at various open source licences, you will likely find a line that says that the licence 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 licence 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,” they wrote in a post announcing Open Usage Commons.

According to its frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, Open Commons Usage will affect companies that want to offer managed versions of projects whose trademarks have been protected: “Applying OSS principles and neutral ownership of the trademark means these companies can invest in offering ‘project as a service’ because it’s a guarantee that they can use that mark; it won’t be suddenly taken away on a whim after they’ve built up an offering around it.”

The board members claimed that eventually trademarking open source projects would help users too, since it would encourage more services, more integrations and more tooling around projects they use. “Vendors and developers can confidently invest in building something that relies on the brand of the project,” they wrote on the Open Usage Commons website.

To get the Open Usage Commons started, Google said it has contributed initial funding, and the trademarks of 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 protected by Open Usage Commons.

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