Subject: brands, trademarks, and the GPL
From: Paul Rohr <>
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 13:03:57 -0700

At 06:07 PM 9/26/99 -0700, L. Peter Deutsch wrote:
>In a recent e-mail, rms said:
>> I plan to add some text about [trademark] in GPL version 3 to say that
>> certain kinds of trademark use must be licensed for modified versions,
>> while others could be limited to unmodified versions only.
>So it isn't clear that meaningful trademark protection will continue to be
>available with future versions of the GPL.  Furthermore, since changing the
>GPL is not allowed, a trademark notice cannot be added to it: I suspect that
>people will read the GPL and think it is the whole story, and easily
>overlook a trademark notice that will have to be in some other place,
>separate from the license text.

Hmm.  I really hope there's not a problem here.  We've committed ourselves 
to developing and releasing our products under the GPL, but need to do so in 
ways which don't dilute the strength of our trademarks as they go through 
the registration process.  

Before I get too worried about this, does anyone have a pointer to the 
original RMS reference?  

>I already make a brand distinction between Aladdin Ghostscript and GNU
>Ghostscript.  Do you think anybody cares? (rhetorical question)

I care.  Very much.  :-)

We've also found ourselves in a two-brand position, albeit for different 
reasons, trying to make sure we've got our bases covered for maximum 
trademark protection.

As with any branding distinction, this forces us to spend time explaining 
the difference between the brands.  (As I'm sure Peter knows, doing the 
marketing work to differentiate two brands in ways that simultaneously 
appeal to two constituencies without unduly deprecating either of them is 
*hard* work.)

This is particularly important for us, because we're building mass-market 
end-user products, and many of our potential customers have no clue what the 
GPL is or means.  They're far more familiar with well-managed brands.  

In practice, the way we're balancing the GPL / trademark issues is to 
release binary versions of our GPL product under the AbiWord brand, which 
includes specific trademarked names and artwork.  However, the accompanying 
sources we release omit those registered trademarks, which are replaced by 
the corresponding "AbiWord Personal" trademarks, which *are* freely 

It's a fairly subtle distinction which most people don't notice unless they 
see the two versions side by side, in which case it's quite clear.  There's 
not necessarily any difference between the *functionality* of the two brands 
-- the code's identical until someone modifies it further -- but they each 
have a sufficiently distinctive look to avoid any customer confusion.  

>I do agree that if one uses a registered trademark from the very first
>release, with the current GPL the branding approach might be successful.

Yep.  That's why we've taken pains up front to make sure our branding and 
trademark strategy was in place, long before the product itself was ready 
for prime time.