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From: Jeff King <peff@peff.net>
To: git@vger.kernel.org
Subject: Git trademark status and policy
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 2017 03:26:56 +0100
Message-ID: <20170202022655.2jwvudhvo4hmueaw@sigill.intra.peff.net> (raw)

As many of you already know, the Git project (as a member of Software
Freedom Conservancy) holds a trademark on "Git".  This email will try to
lay out a bit of the history and procedure around the enforcement of
that trademark, along with some open questions about policy.

I'll use "we" in the text below, which will generally mean the Git
Project Leadership Committee (PLC). I.e., the people who represent the
Git project as part of Conservancy -- me, Junio Hamano, and Shawn
Pearce.

We approached Conservancy in Feb 2013 about getting a trademark on Git
to ensure that anything calling itself "Git" remained interoperable with
Git. Conservancy's lawyer drafted the USPTO application and submitted it
that summer. The trademark was granted in late 2014 (more on that delay
in a moment).

Concurrently, we developed a written trademark policy, which you can
find here:

  https://git-scm.com/trademark

This was started from a template that Conservancy uses and customized by
Conservancy and the Git PLC.

While the original idea was to prevent people from forking the
software, breaking compatibility, and still calling it Git, the policy
covers several other cases.

One is that you can't imply successorship. So you also can't fork the
software, call it "Git++", and then tell everybody your implementation
is the next big thing.

Another is that you can't use the mark in a way that implies association
with or endorsement by the Git project. To some degree this is necessary
to prevent dilution of the mark for other uses, but there are also cases
we directly want to prevent.

For example, imagine a software project which is only tangentially
related to Git. It might use Git as a side effect, or might just be
"Git-like" in the sense of being a distributed system with chained
hashes. Let's say as an example that it does backups. We'd prefer it
not call itself GitBackups. We don't endorse it, and it's just using the
name to imply association that isn't there. You can come up with similar
hypotheticals: GitMail that stores mailing list archives in Git, or
GitWiki that uses Git as a backing store.

Those are all fictitious examples (actually, there _are_ real projects
that do each of those things, but they gave themselves much more unique
names). But they're indicative of some of the cases we've seen. I'm
intentionally not giving the real names here, because my point isn't to
shame any particular projects, but to discuss general policy.

Careful readers among you may now be wondering about GitHub, GitLab,
Gitolite, etc. And now we get back to why it took over a year to get the
trademark granted.

The USPTO initially rejected our application as confusingly similar to
the existing trademark on GitHub, which was filed in 2008. While one
might imagine where the "Git" in GitHub comes from, by the time we
applied to the USPTO, both marks had been widely used in parallel for
years.  So we worked out an agreement with GitHub which basically says
"we are mutually OK with the other trademark existing".

(There was another delay caused by a competing application from a
proprietary version control company that wanted to re-brand portions of
their system as "GitFocused" (not the real name, but similar in spirit).
We argued our right to the name and refused to settle; they eventually
withdrew their application).

So GitHub is essentially outside the scope of the trademark policy, due
to the history. We also decided to explicitly grandfather some major
projects that were using similar portmanteaus, but which had generally
been good citizens of the Git ecosystem (building on Git in a useful
way, not breaking compatibility). Those include GitLab, JGit, libgit2,
and some others. The reasoning was generally that it would be a big pain
for those projects, which have established their own brands, to have to
switch names. It's hard to hold them responsible for picking a name that
violated a policy that didn't yet exist.

If the "libgit2" project were starting from scratch today, we'd probably
ask it to use a different name (because the name may imply that it's an
official successor). However, we effectively granted permission for this
use and it would be unfair to disrupt that.

There's one other policy point that has come up: the written policy
disallows the use of "Git" or the logo on merchandise. This is something
people have asked about it (e.g., somebody made some Git stress balls,
and another person was printing keycaps with a Git logo). We have always
granted it, but wanted to reserve the right in case there was some use
that we hadn't anticipated that would be confusing or unsavory.

Enforcement of the policy is done as cases are brought to the attention
of Conservancy and the Git PLC. Sometimes people mail Conservancy
directly, and sometimes a use is noticed by the Git PLC, which mails
Conservancy.  In either case, Conservancy's lawyer pings the Git PLC,
and we decide what to do about it, with advice from the lawyer. The end
result is usually a letter from the lawyer politely asking them to stop
using the trademark.

So how does the Git PLC make decisions? We generally try to follow the
policy in an equitable way, but there are a lot of corner cases. Here
are some rules of thumb we've worked out:

  - Things that are only tangentially related to Git are out of policy
    (e.g., if you had a service which rewards bitcoin for people's
    commits, we'd prefer it not be branded GitRewards).

  - Anything that claims to be Git but does not interoperate is out.
    We haven't had to use that one yet.

  - Portmanteaus ("GitFoo" or "FooGit") are out. Most of the cases run
    into this rule. For instance, we asked GitHub to not to use "DGit"
    to refer to their replicated Git solution, and they[1] rebranded.
    We also asked "GitTorrent" not to use that name based on this rule.

  - Commands like "git-foo" (so you run "git foo") are generally OK.
    This is Git's well-known extension mechanism, so it doesn't really
    imply endorsement (on the other hand, you do not get to complain if
    you choose too generic a name and conflict with somebody else's use
    of the same git-foo name).

  - When "git-foo" exists, we've approved "Git Foo" as a matching
    project name, but we haven't decided on a general rule to cover this
    case.  The only example here is "Git LFS".

So that's more or less where we're at now.  In my opinion, a few open
questions are:

  1. Is the portmanteau clause a good idea? GitTorrent is a possibly
     interesting case there. It's an open source project trying to
     make a torrent-like protocol for Git. That's something we'd like to
     have happen. But does the name imply more endorsement than we're
     willing to give (especially at an early stage)?

  2. Is it a problem that the grandfathering of some names may create a
     branding advantage? Under the policy today, we wouldn't grant
     "GitHub" or "GitLab". Does that give an unfair advantage to the
     incumbents?

     I think the answer is "yes", but the Git PLC is also not sure that
     there is a good solution. If we'd thought about trademark issues
     much earlier, we would have been in different circumstances and
     probably would have made different decisions. But we didn't, so we
     have to live with how things developed in the meantime.

     Loosening now would be a mistake as it would cause a lot of
     confusion around the trademark and make it harder for us to stop
     the uses that we really care about stopping now.

  3. Was granting "Git LFS" the right call? I think the project is a good
     one and has worked well with the greater Git community. But I think
     the name has implied some level of "officialness". We obviously
     need to allow "git-lfs" as a name. But should the policy have said
     "you can call this LFS, and the command is git-lfs, but don't say
     'Git LFS'". I'm not sure.

     One option would have been to ask "git-foo" to prefer "Foo for Git"
     instead of "Git Foo" in their branding (it's too late now for "Git
     LFS", so this is a hypothetical question for future requests now).

  4. I think the merchandise clause has worked fine, and in general the
     plan is to grant it in most cases. I have trouble thinking of an
     item I _wouldn't_ want the Git logo on, and I'd rather err on the
     side of permissiveness than be the arbiter of taste. And having the
     Git logo on merchandise generally raises awareness of Git.

     But perhaps people have stronger opinions (either about the type of
     item, or perhaps the practices of the manufacturer producing it).
     It's hard to predict how a particular item would impact how people
     see the Git brand.

-Peff

[1] I used "they" to refer to GitHub, but as many of you know, I am also
    employed by GitHub. If you are wondering how that works, I generally
    abstain from any decisions regarding GitHub (and that includes the
    "Git LFS" decision, which was a project started by GitHub). That
    leaves two voting PLC members for those decisions; Conservancy gets
    a tie-breaking vote, but it has never come up.

             reply index

Thread overview: 4+ messages in thread (expand / mbox.gz / Atom feed / [top])
2017-02-02  2:26 Jeff King [this message]
2017-02-21 15:55 ` G. Sylvie Davies
2017-02-21 22:31   ` Jeff King
2017-02-22  1:01   ` G. Sylvie Davies

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