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LinuxPlanet: .comment: A Moderate Approach to Intellectual Property

Jul 11, 2001, 13:00 (43 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis E. Powell)

On its face, a lawsuit brought on behalf of Adobe to force the KOffice project to change the name of killustrator to something sounding less like Adobe's own vector drawing software may sound like an invitation to once again revisit worn rants about the harmfulness of intellectual property. Dennis E. Powell argues that seeing as how even the GPL depends on it, the real issue isn't with the existence of intellectual property, but with the execution of intellectual property laws. This area of the law is one we choose to scorn and ignore at our own peril, and it's time, says Powell, for cool heads to step to the plate:

"...warfare comes less and less in the form of people with guns and submarines and cannon killing each other and breaking their stuff. Today's battles are increasingly economic ones. Like the battles of old, the combatants play for advantage, choosing the battlefield where they have the best chance of winning. Those battlefields are determined by venue shopping, in the case of class-action lawsuits, and by, now, country shopping, as in the case of Adobe v. KDE.

Under the current German system of laws (called, one might think from this case, Reich 3.1), lawyers get to bring what amounts to suit against people in behalf of people who have not authorized them to do so. They then get to bill not the plaintiff but the defendant for their efforts.

We've had a German lawyer employ German law to enforce the American trademark of an American company. The company, which named itself after the chief ingredient of many of the world's finer mud huts, has trademarked the perfectly ordinary word "illustrator," perhaps in the belief that this will give it some advantage against the vastly superior Corel DRAW!.

The victim of this collection of absurdities -- a/k/a the defendant -- is a German university, on whose web page appeared information connected with KIllustrator, the vector graphics program that is part of KOffice, the KDE office suite.

It's obvious that we can criticize Adobe for filing for a trademark that is ridiculous, and the U.S. government for granting it, and Germany for having ridiculous laws as to the enforcement of trademarks, and the whole system in which a word constitutes "intellectual property."

To stop there would be to miss the point, and it's a point to which all of us to whom Linux matters would do well to focus upon. The title of this section is in quotation marks because it is exactly the kind of response that does no good, yet to which it's easy to be drawn."

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