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IBM developerWorks: Excerpt from “Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers”

[ Thanks to jcondon
for this link. ]

“Although not well organized, the Open Source Community can
bring its weight to bear upon problems it believes to be
sufficiently threatening. In 1994 an opportunist filed for a
trademark on the word “Linux,” and after obtaining it a year later
began to send letters to various Linux companies demanding 10
percent of their revenues for the use of the trademark. The
trademark apparently held good, for after bringing suit, a
coalition of Linux plaintiffs who had called for its cancellation
acquired it in a private settlement on undisclosed terms; they
subsequently put it in the hands of Linus Torvalds. The danger was
averted, but the Community was upset by the close call.”

“They consequently descended with all the wrath of public
opinion on a set of individuals who presumed in 1998 to set up a
“Linux Standards Association” without any discussion of it within
the Linux Community. The surprise was followed by rumors that the
association was a cat’s paw of large computer industry companies
plotting to hijack Linux. The association proposed (like many
standards bodies) that only fee-paying members could vote on the
standards, and that the two companies who sponsored the association
would be the final arbiters of those standards. The promoters
withdrew from public view under withering scorn, and no small part
of the outrage was the idea that the perpetrators might give a
watching world a picture of a disorganized Community at a time when
it was trying very hard for public acceptance. The Community-based
Linux Standard Base (LSB) found itself strengthened by the episode
as at least one independent-minded Linux company decided to give it
more support as a means of filling what was obviously a dangerous
vacuum.”

Businesses venturing into Open Source waters can draw two
lessons from these incidents: first, that it is important to deal
carefully with the Community when doing something other than
straightforward business under Open Source licenses (some companies
appoint ambassadors to the Community, a variation on the Apple use
of evangelists to drum up interest and support from developers);
and second, that the Community can find resources to use to serve
its ends.
In the case of the Linux trademark, the Community
summoned up the necessary effort, funding, and the pro bono
services of attorneys. Sun software has begun experimenting with
more open licensing in the face of scornful Community opinion,
perhaps aided by pressure from IBM, which wants Java, to which IBM
has contributed so much code, finally made an Open Source product.
The osmotic and networked nature of the Community mean that efforts
do not necessarily have to be planned or coordinated to be
effective.”


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