Recently, Google announced that it would transfer trademark ownership of three of its major open source projects (Istio, Angular, Gerrit) to open Use Commons (OUC), a new neutral organization, and said it would advise developers on how to process and use these brand ed’ores. The move, which appears to be a further embrace of open source, has also caused some controversy in the industry.
“Neutral” organizations established by Google
On July 8, local time, Google announced the transfer of trademark ownership of the project to a new organization, the OUC, to provide neutral oversight of the trademark. “Historically, trademark management confusion has been one of the factors hindering the development of open source projects,” the statement said. Today, we announced the creation of Open Usage Commons (OUC), an open-use sharing organization dedicated to extending open source concepts and definitions to the project’s trademark management. “
As learned from OUC’s official website, the new organization has received some initial funding from Google and, in addition to Istio, it has acquired trademark ownership of the well-known web framework Angular and the code collaboration tool Gerrit. All three projects are closely related to Google. However, the code or code management rights for these projects are not transferred to the OUC.
Chris DiBona, director of open source at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, told Foreign Media that OUC stems from Google’s long history in the open source world: “We have more than 3,000 active open source projects today. These projects have long been subject to a number of intellectual property-related legal disputes, and Google has won all of these cases. We have come to the conclusion that open source software code and trademark management should be distinguished. “
Dibona continued, “If you look at open source licenses, you’ll see that they either don’t mention trademarks at all or they give up them.” This means that people only need to meet the terms of open source licenses such as Apache to use all of the open source software’s content, which may include trademarks. We decided to adjust to this, and the trademark of open source software should be protected like any other software, and people should be able to know exactly what they can and can’t do. We want to bring this clear division of rights to trademarks and establish guidelines based on open source definitions of trademark use. “
It’s worth noting that THE OUC currently has six board members, of which DiBona is. Other members include Google Director Jen Phillips; Allison Randal from the Software Freedom Protection Society and the OpenStack Foundation; Charles Isbell, an academic researcher; Cliff Lampe, a professor at the University of Michigan; and Miles Ward, a former Google executive and current chief technology officer of cloud service provider SADA. Arguably, the organization’s management is entirely dominated by Google.
The Meaning of open source software trademarks
As Dibona says, most common open source licenses do not have explicit requirements for open source software trademarks. But trademarks have long been important to open source software companies and organizations.
The most famous example of the strict management of open source software trademarks is RedHat, the most successful open source software company. In 2004, RedHat issued strict rules on its trademarks that allow everyone to freely use the code for its open source products, but never allows unauthorized use of trademarks with its LOGO. This initiative establishes the commercial position of the RedHat trademark in the industry, so that the RedHat-related trademark information in Fedora and CentOS, a community distribution of RedHat Linux-based, are completely replaced, even though their code comes from RedHat. As Mark Webbink, then vice president of Red Hat, put it: “In an open source economy, the RedHat brand and its services are commercially valuable.” “
Another well-known case of open source trademark protection is the Firefox browser. In 2005, Mozilla registered the “Firefox” trademark because many outlaws resold and profited from “Firefox” CD-ROMs containing malicious plug-ins. This practice largely eliminates the negative impact of pirated browsers with malicious plug-ins on the Firefox brand. Today, when you see “Firefox” or its trademark Logo, there is a clear recognition that “it’s Mozilla’s Firefox.”
Why not select CNCF?
Why would Google choose to create a new organization instead of an existing open source foundation, such as CNCF, when it wants to shift the project’s trademarks from the company to a neutral organization? It is well known that CNCF, one of the hottest open source foundations of the day, took kubernetes from Google in 2015 and took it step by step.
“The reason we created OUC is not to compete, but to serve other open source organizations, including CNCF, Apache Software Foundation, W3C, European Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Protection, and more.” “We just wanted to focus on solving this problem of open source software trademark management, and we thought that’s important,” diBona said. “
While Google thinks it’s going to be good for everyone, industry peers don’t seem to agree. After Google announced the transfer of its Istio trademark to the OUC organization, IBM, another IT giant, immediately issued a statement on the IBM Developer website expressing disappointment at Google’s approach.
Jason R. McGee, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of IBM Cloud Platforms, said in a statement that the Istio project is a merger of Google’s Istio and IBM’s Amalgam8 projects. As a founding member of the Istio project, IBM invested significant resources in the construction of the Istio project. At the beginning of the project, the two sides had an agreement that the project would contribute to the CNCF when it matured, and it was clear that Google had violated that agreement. IBM continues to believe that the best way to manage key open source projects such as Istio is to adopt true open governance, level play a level playing field for all contributors, provide transparency, and truly neutrally manage licenses and trademarks, supported by a reputable, neutral organization. Google should reconsider its initial commitment and include Istio in the CNCF.
IBM said Google’s announcement of the open-use shared organization (OUC) was disappointing because it did not meet community expectations for open governance (the board is actually less neutral. An open governance process is the foundation of many successful projects. Without this vendor-neutral approach to project governance, the Kubernetes project would not have been as successful as it is today.
Meanwhile, CNCF Chief Technology Officer Chris Aniszczyk said: “Members of our community are confused because Google has chosen not to donate istio projects to CNCF, but we are still happy to help them resubmit their old project proposals since 2017.” “
“The CNCF surrounding the k8s eco has successfully replaced the OpenStack system and won most of the market for cloud infrastructure today,” said an industry analyst. But in THE CNCF, Google is just one of the founding companies, and although k8s is from Google, Google is now unable to take full control of the evolution of k8s. For Google, k8s didn’t bring huge benefits to the company, so they’re holding projects such as istio in their hands this time. “
Google is no longer open?
Google has long been the “number one player” in the open source camp, and from operating systems to artificial intelligence to cloud-based, Google has been accompanied by the evolution of the world’s mainstream open source wave, contributing to many heavyweight open source projects. But in recent years, Google seems to be singing something different.
Last October, in a high-level strategy report released by Google, Donna Malayeri, Google’s product manager and a member of the Knative Steering Committee, made it clear that the Knative project would not be donated to any foundation. The decision also drew the ire of many in the industry at the time. Joe Beda, the chief engineer at VMWare, and Brendan Burns, a Microsoft engineer, and former Google Kubernetes, are among those who expressed disappointment at the news. Brendan said on Twitter: “I am very disappointed to see Knative abandon open governance. Joe added: “The Steering Committee has seven members, assigned by suppliers rather than communities. Four of these members belong to Google, and changing any content requires a majority of passage. The implication is that Google can manipulate Knative.
In the open source world, ownership-neutrality of a project is a very important principle. The ownership of many large open source projects is usually in the hands of a neutral open source foundation. Only under the management of neutral non-profit organizations, the major enterprise developers can actively participate in the construction of the open source project without worries, in case their efforts for other enterprises to do a wedding dress.
And will Google’s series of practices that break the principle of openness have a bigger ripple effect in the open source world?