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Tue Jun 4 12:17:20 MDT 2013

The following was written by Linus Torvalds and posted to kernel-dev 

I've been getting tons of email about the trademark thing due to the 
action of stopping the auctioning off of linux-related names, so instead 
of just answering individually (which was how I started out), I'll just 
send out a more generic email. And hope that slashdot etc pick it up so 
that enough people will be reassured or at least understand the issues. 

And hey, you may not end up agreeing with me, but with the transmeta 
announcement tomorrow I won't have much time to argue about it until next 
week ;) 

Basically, the rules are fairly simple, and there really are just a few 
simple basic issues involved: 

- I (and obviously a lot of other people) do not want to have "Linux" as 
a name associated with unacceptable (or borderline) behaviour, and it's 
important that "Linux" doesn't get a name of being associated with 
scams, cybersquatting, etc etc. I'd personally hate that, for rather 
obvious reasons. I _like_ being proud of Linux, and what has been 
achieved. I'd rather not have to apologize for it.. 

- Trademark law requires that the trademark owner police the use of the 
trademark (unlike, for example, copyright law, where the copyright 
owner is the copyright owner, always is, and always will be unless he 
willingly relinquishes ownership, and even THEN he ends up having 

This is nasty, because it means, for example, that a trademark owner 
has to be shown as caring about even small infringements, because 
otherwise the really bad guys can use as their defense that "hey, we 
may have misused it, but look at those other cases that they didn't go 
after, they obviously don't care.." 

- Even with things that aren't scams or something like that, VALID uses 
of "Linux" may be bad if they mean that other valid uses of "Linux" are 

Those are the kind of ground rules, I think everybody can pretty much 
agree with them.. 

What the above leads to is 

- I'm required to ask people to acknowledge the trademark. When you use 
the term "Linux" in official marketing literature etc, you should 
acknowledge it as a trademark owned by me. Not because I love seeing my 
name in print, but simply because of the "policing" issue (#2) above. 

(And no, that does NOT mean that you have to add that to normal, 
everyday use of the term. Common sense rules the day, think of the 
situations where you see the silly "xxxx is a trademark of yyyy", and 
realize that yyyy may not really care except the legal issues force 
them to ;) 

- _Intent_ matters. It matters a lot. 

If your intent is to use the word "linux" as part of a real Linux 
project, that doesn't mean that you automatically absolutely have to 
get permission from me. That's the LAST thing I want. I want "Linux" to 
be as free as possible as a term, and the real reason for having a 
trademark in the first place was to _protect_ it rather than use it as 
some kind of legalistic enforcement thing. 

But, for example, if your intent is to register "" (made up 
example, I don't know if it is registered or not) only in the hopes of 
selling the domain name for mucho dinero later, then that kind of 
intent is not something I (or anybody else, I think) would find really 
acceptable, because now the use of "linux" in this case has really been 
a question of blocking somebody ELSE from using the term and using it 
to get money. 

This is where the cybersquatting laws come in, for example, allowing 
the use of a trademark as a way to make sure that such squatting 
activity does NOT happen. 

- Being "specific" is _good_. Being specific largely avoids the problem 
of many people/organizations wanting the same name. We had an example 
long ago of somebody who would have wanted to register "Linux Expert" 
as a servicemark, yet obviously that is a pretty generic term. Not 
good, if it means that there will be confusion about who owns the term. 

In contrast (to give some tangible examples), something like "VA Linux" 
or "Red Hat Linux" oviously isn't a generic term: it's a very 
_targeted_ term for something very specific. Those kinds of names do 
not detract from other peoples ability to call _their_ Linux company 
something else. 

- Finally, you have to judge the "officialdom" and the importance of 
the business side of your usage. Not because I or anybody else 
really cares all that much, but more because of the "pain factor" if 
the name is asked for by somebody else. 

Basically, ask yourself the question: "What if somebody else had a 
project, and happened to chose the same name for his project as I have 
for mine, how strong a protection do I want for MY version of the 

Also, ask yourself: "Would anybody ever have reason to question the 
name, and do I need to make provisions for protecting this particular 
instance of it" (and note that "anybody" may not be me as the trademark 
owner myself, but it may be a competitor who wants to make life 
uncomfortable for you) 

If you decide that you want some official protection from the mark, 
that probably means that you want to own your own version of the 
trademark, ie a "service mark" or a "combination mark". There are 
obvious cases where such a thing is wanted - you should not be 
surprised to hear that various Linux companies own their own 
combination marks, or have at the very least gotten that ownership 
verbally approved by me pending getting the paperwork done. 

So basically, in case the trademark issue comes up, you should make your 
own judgement. If you read and understood the above, you know pretty much 
what my motivation is - I hate the paperwork, and I think all of this is 
frankly a waste of my time, but I need to do it so that in the future I 
don't end up being in a position I like even less. 

And I'm _not_ out to screw anybody. In order to cover the costs of 
paperwork and the costs of just _tracking_ the trademark issues (and to 
really make it a legally binding contract in the first place), if you end 
up going the whole nine yards and think you need your own trademark 
protection, there is a rather nominal fee(*) associated with combination 
mark paperwork etc. That money actually goes to the Linux International 
trademark fund, so it's not me scalping people if anybody really thought 
that that might be the case ;) 

I hope people understand what happened, and why it happened, and why it 
really hasn't changed anything that we had to assert the trademark issue 
publically for the first time this week. And I hope people feel more 
comfortable about it. 

And finally - I hope that people who decide due to this that what they 
really want is trademark protection for their own Linux trademark, that 
they could just wait a week or two, or contact maddog at Linux 
International rather than me. We're finally getting the shroud of secrecy 
lifted from transmeta (hey, we'll have a real web-site and zdtv is 
supposed to webcast the announcement tomorrow), and I'd rather worry about 
trademarks _next_ week. 



(*) "Nominal fee". What an ugly sentence. It's one of those things that 
implies that if you have to ask, you can't afford it. In reality, it's 
more a thing where both intent and the size of the project will make a 
difference - and quite frankly it's also a way to slightly discourage 
people who aren't really serious about it in the first place. 

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