Last week, Slashdot reported on a number of Australian companies that have received letters about their use of the trade mark “Linux”. Linux is actually a trade mark owned by Linus Torvalds himself, and it has been sub-licensed to Oregon non-profit corporation named Linux Mark Institute. This post prompted one of the most acrimonious flame wars that I have read in Slashdot (perhaps with the exception of Trek v. Star Wars flame wars). The general feeling that I got from many people was that there was a feeling of betrayal. As one poster wrote: “Isn’t this the kind of thing Free Software was supposed to be against? Anyone can distribute their own flavor of Linux and call it Linux without being threatened by lawsuits over trademarks?“
Pam Jones from Groklaw has replied many of the concerns with a measured post explaining the reasons why, and coming mostly in favour of the Linux trade mark. While I know nothing about trade mark law, I tend to agree that this is a step that should be taken at some point. Linus Torvalds should start defending his mark if he wants to keep some people from abusing it. At the moment, nothing stops Linux opponents from using the name Linux.
However, I can see this becoming yet another wedge between open source and free software.
By the way, it must be noted that Linus does not own the trade mark for Tux, the friendly Linux penguin pictured above.