(Updated 9th June, added links to papers)
I spent most of last week at the Open Source Systems 2009 conference in Skövde (pronounced “hwerv-duh”), Sweden. It was an interesting few days, and I was impressed (rather than flattered) that the conference chair, Prof. Tony Wasserman, was able to remember that I used to work for Sun Microsystems on the basis of a 10 minute conversation we had shared in Orlando, Florida in 2005.
I thought that the keynotes were good, general introductions into the state of the ecosystem movement community topic, that Stormy Peters’ (ironically breezy) overview of open source business models managed to be inclusive without being turgid. Brian Behlendorf’s talk on “How open source can still save the world” was not what I expected – although it was an interesting study of several essentially public sector projects (a theme of the conference) which open source can be proud. Indeed, at the OSSCOM workshop on Saturday, Jonathan Allen started his paper with the comment that open source can also save business.
At the OSSCOM workshop, I also made my own modest contribution, “Considerations for Trademarks, Nomenclature and FLOSS Communities”, which I thought went well, although David scored me a lame 12.5% on adopting his excellent feedback. Sorry David, I will try harder next time.
In my paper, I argued that the importance of trademarks to open source communities is largely unrecognised. Any sustainable project should be aware of whether it is naming its code base, its distributed product (of course, there may be several), its community, or even the right to provide services for that product.
During the subsequent discussion, one question emerged that the workshop seemed to find important, namely, “how can you tell if a company controls a project?”. My answer may seem like a simplification, but I would argue that whoever controls the trademark by which that community’s product is known, controls the community (in so much as you can control open source at all). There is an implicit contract between trademark owner and community members – and where the contract is not acceptable to all parties, a fork occurs (or people leave the project altogether). While copyright ownership may seem more important, it is only really relevant for dual-licensing (or any possible license change). But if you want to know who governs the project, look for the trademark holder.