Are trademarks compatible with free software philosophy? A real story about Ubuntu and me.

You want to start a commercial website, you want to spread the the Ubuntu word and you’re already involved in some Ubuntu related free initiatives (let’s say you’re also an Ubuntu affiliate).

You’ve to decide the name of your business (and the website domain too) and we all know how much relevance this task has in the future success of the business itself.

You and your marketing team decide that “hey-you-have-ubuntu-we-can-do-things-for-you.com” (it’s just an example :P) it’s the right one, but… hey Ubuntu is a trademark, we can’t use that name!

So what? Let’s take a look at the Ubuntu trademark policy, it’s a long text but we’ve to read it all but we note:

it is very unlikely that we will approve Trademark use in the following cases:
– Use of a Trademark in a company name
– Use of a Trademark in a domain name which has a commercial intent

But you think “Hey I’m not going to steal Ubuntu identity or capitalize on Ubuntu name, I’m just building an Ubuntu based service” so any marketer would never suggest you a different name (for your website, you can change the company name, that’s not the problem) because it’s too effective and any alternative won’t work.

So you write to the Ubuntu trademarks team asking if you can use the name, Ubuntu knows you’re in good faith cause they know your free projects and Ubuntu advocancy but… I still haven’t got back a complete answer to my mail thus… updates will come (I hope soon!).

OK I know that the title of the post has “free software” but a commercial service promoting a free project (support or anything else) it’s always a good thing for the project, or am I wrong? Thus my question is “trademarks and free software can live together?” It could be good to protect a fraud service using the protected name but it also is a limitation for an enterprise level growth of services.

PS: Remember that Ubuntu and Canonical are registered trademarks of Canonical Ltd.

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