Re: Debian, AbiWord, and Trademarks

From: Dom Lachowicz <>
Date: Tue Oct 19 2004 - 23:08:22 CEST

Hi Andy,

First, IANAL, though I have taken some IP law classes.
What follows should not be construed as legal advice.

First, I'd appreciate if you would stop mentioning
AbiWord as anything more than just an example in your
ongoing discussions. It's inflammatory, misleading and
IMO rude. AbiWord doesn't have TM restrictions. TMs in
themselves have restrictions and responsibilities on
the part of their owners and its users. The term
"AbiWord" is merely trademarked.

I couldn't make TMs more strict if I tried. Well,
maybe if I had something akin to MSFT's lobbying
power. But anyway... I can pretty much only choose to
license the TMs to other people, go after alleged
infringers, or decide not to. If I decide it's not
worth going after infringers, the TM goes the way of
"escallator," "aspirin" and the dodo bird, becomes
genericized, and isn't a TM any more. Poof. And
(intentionally or not) AbiWord is being painted as the
Bad Guy (tm). That little TM blurb on the website is
some non-lawyer's _interpretation_ of TM law, offers
itself up as a guideline at best, was not written by
me, probably does not accurately represent my feelings
on the issue, and may very well be wrong.

Neither Debian nor any other Linux distro has asked me
about licensing the TMs. It's not clear to me that you
would have to. It's not clear to me that you wouldn't
have to.

That said, this issue and discussion should in no way
be made specific to AbiWord. In a greater sense, it
shouldn't even be made specific to Debian, though
Debian-legal is probably a good place to kick off such
a discussion.

There is no shortage of other registered trademarked
software in Debian and other GNU/Linux distributions.
OpenOffice, Mozilla, Apache, Evolution, Gnome, and
untold others have registered Trademarks. Even pieces
of software that aren't registered *may* have some
valid trademark claim. This includes everything from
"gLabels" to "ls".

The thing about Trademarks is that if their owners
don't protect them, the TMs become worthless.

Debian, as a distributor of TM'd products, have
certain "fair-use" rights to the products they
distribute. For example if I'm Walmart and sell "Coca
Cola" in aisle 3, I have a right to advertize that I
sell "Coca Cola". No TM is being abused or diluted.

The issue becomes more hazy in the Free Software world
when you bring up similar and/or derivitive works. If
Debian took an AbiWord tarball produced by us, and
then shipped it, would Debian be "in the clear"?
Almost certainly. But if it had 1 patch? 10 patches?
100? Philisophical (and legal) questions such as what
exactly constitutes a derivitive work and the rights
afforded thereto come into play. What constitutes TM
confusion and dilution? Is "ls" a generic term? And et

The GPL, as I understand it, affords you the right to
produce derivative works. It does not, however, afford
you the right to call *any* of your derivative works
"AbiWord". Or "Evolution". Or "Mozilla". Or "ls". Only
a full understanding of TM law would let you know
whether you're in the clear there. The GPL and similar
licenses are silent on the issue of TM. I personally
believe that is a good idea.

I believe that Debian and other Linux may well be
within your fair-use rights with respect to AbiWord's
TM and other product's TMs. But, IANAL. You'd do well
to consult with several if you care this much.

If Debian were to come up with some sort of TM
license, I'd be more than happy to review it and
possibly sign it. I'm sure that a great many other TM
owners would as well. But I'm sure that a great many
people and corporations may not have such warm and
fuzzy feelings, and that at least 1 TM owner has
fallen off the face of the Earth. You may have to stop
shipping said products, or may have to start changing
their names, logos, artwork, and etc. dramatically.

With all of that said, am I going to sue Debian for TM
infringement? Unlikely, unless you make the "C" key
insert porno or something. The thought had honestly
never crossed my mind until you brought it up. But
such are the affairs of Debian-legal. I'm not sure
whether you're looking for trouble or if you're just
being proactive.

Best regards,

--- Andy Korvemaker
<> wrote:

> Hi. In the most recent Debian Weekly News
> ( there
> is mention of AbiWord
> and trademark "issues". It refers to a discussion
> started on the
> Debian-Legal mailing list
> In a nutshell, some Debian people are again
> wondering if AbiWord's
> trademark use restrictions prevent them from
> distributing Abiword in its
> current form with its current name in Debian. The
> discussion is also
> looking at the issue of trademarks in general.
> In reading through the tread, I did not see any
> mention was made of
> Dom's response to some trademark questions earlier
> this year
> I'm not sure if there's much that can be done right
> now, but I saw it
> and figured other people might want to be aware that
> it's apparently an
> issue (though people following IRC would probably
> already be aware).
> andy
> --
> Andy Korvemaker

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Received on Tue Oct 19 23:07:12 2004

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