Archive for August 20th, 2004

Localization Teams and Trademarks

August 20th, 2004

I know there is angst and unhappiness about potential new localization plans and trademark limits. I knew this somewhat before, but I really know it now. That’s because Tristan, Peter, Axel, Gerv and others have made it a point to bring these concerns to the Mozilla Foundation and make sure we understand how important a topic this is. They’ve also made it clear that we haven’t done a good enough job at working with the localization teams. So we’re going to do a few things.

First, we’ve made the localization issues a regular topic of discussion with the Mozilla Europe folks. This way the topic won’t get dropped, and we’ll make sure that the Mozilla Foundation does a better job of both listening and communication. It also gives those in Europe an easier, effective way to raise your concerns — talk to the Mozilla Europe folks and they’ll make sure we get the message. We’ll do the same thing with Mozilla Japan. We’ll continue the regular IRC discussions with the localization groups with Mozilla Foundation participation. We’ll try to do a better job of explaining what’s going on and the constraints within which the Mozilla Foundation operates. That’s what I’ll try to do in the rest of this message.

The Mozilla Foundation believes it is important to make sure that product names such as Firefox are protected as trademarks. If this is not done, then the names can be used by projects and companies that are doing quite different things. For example, we would be very unhappy to see a new browser plugin named Firefox appear that is unrelated to the Mozilla project. We don’t want to see browsers with different technology underpinnings called Firefox. A browser that doesn’t have XUL for example, isn’t Firefox and we don’t want one to appear called Firefox. This would cause immense confusion.

So having “Firefox” be a trademark is important. This isn’t something I say lightly because having a trademark means that the owner is required to do certain things to keep a trademark viable. A trademark is used to identify the “source of origin” of the item bearing the trademark and to indicate quality. If the trademark is used in ways that don’t reflect the source of origin and quality level, then the trademark is weakened. If weakened enough, a trademark can be lost entirely. This is what happened to former trademarks such as “elevator” which started out as a trademark and become a general purpose noun through lack of enforcement.

I’m personally not a fan of much of trademark law, as it requires the trademark owner to do things that seem unfriendly to partners and associates. Nevertheless the Mozilla Foundation is going to comply with the requirements of trademark law to protect Firefox, Thunderbird, and other product names. We will do so in as flexible a manner as we can.

I recognize the effort, commitment and personal investment the localization teams have made to the Mozilla project. I also recognize that the localization teams take a great deal of pride in the releases that result and it is undoubtedly distasteful to think that the Mozilla Foundation many timezones away may somehow suddenly be involved.

We are currently working with trademark lawyers to determine the core set of trademark requirements, and to identify those things that trademark lawyers like but which aren’t actually absolutely necessary. We want to give the localization teams flexibility. So we’re working to take the legal requirements necessary for trademark protection and figure out implementation policies consistent with our enormous desire to recognize both the importance and the commitment of the localization teams. It’s actually been harder to get a clear picture of this from the trademark experts than I would have thought, and it’s taken more time than I would like as well.

We’ve spent a lot of time trying to sort this out and talking with folks from Mozilla Europe and the Mozilla Localization Project. We believe we’re getting close to circulating a draft policy. I imagine no one will think it’s perfect (well, maybe someone will, but I’m not counting on that) but hopefully it will be a good, workable balance.

We hope to have something posted for comment within the next week or so.

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