Google announces the Open Usage Commons to help open source projects manage trademarks

In collaboration with academic leaders, independent contributors, and cloud solutions provider SADA Systems, Google today announced the Open Usage Commons, an organization focused on “extending the philosophy and definition of open source to project trademarks.” According to its founding members, the Open Usage Commons’ mission is to help open source projects assert their identities through programs specific to trademark and conformance management.

Open source projects have historically struggled to manage their trademarks — i.e., their project’s name, badge, and logo. Trademarks are a measure of quality assurance, including the assurance that the code in question has an open source license. When they’re properly managed, the maintainers of projects like Keras (an AI library written in Python) can define their identity and provide assurances to users and developers of the quality of their offering. Moreover, maintainers can give others in the community certainty about the free and fair use of the brand.

Projects in the Open Usage Commons will receive support germane to trademark protection and management, usage guidelines, and conformance testing, and the organization will provide the community with education regarding trademarks. The Open Usage Commons’ board of directors will soon publish consideration criteria for projects who want to join, and it plans to establish a legal committee that will advise the board, projects, and welcome advisory members selected by projects to guide trademark usage policies.

“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,” wrote the Open Usage Commons Board members Allison Randal, Charles Isbell, Cliff Lampe, Chris DiBona, Jen Phillips, Miles Ward in a statement. “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.”

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To get the Open Usage Commons started, Google contributed initial funding and the trademarks of web app framework Angular, web-based collaboration tool Gerrit, and microservices orchestration platform Istio. Google says developers who use a trademark of one of the projects currently can continue to use those marks, following any current guidance from the project.

“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,” wrote open source at Google director Chris DiBona. “Trademarks sit at the juncture of the rule of law and the philosophy of open source, a complicated space; for this reason, we consider it to be the next challenge for open source, one we want to help with.”

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