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Open-source movements butt heads over logo

Open Source Initiative and Open Source Hardware Association trying to bridge differences over similar-looking logos

By , IDG News Service
August 08, 2012 09:29 AM ET

IDG News Service - A gear logo proposed to represent and easily identify open-source hardware has caught the eyes of the The Open Source Initiative, which believes the logo infringes its trademark.

The gear logo is backed by the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), which was formally established earlier this year to promote hardware innovation and unite the fragmented community of hackers and do-it-yourselfers. The gear mark is now being increasingly used on boards and circuits to indicate that the hardware is open-source and designs can be openly shared and modified.

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OSI has now informed OSHWA, which is acting on behalf of the open-source hardware community, that the logo infringes on its trademark. The issue at stake is a keyhole at the bottom of the open-source hardware logo, which resembles a keyhole at the bottom of the OSI logo. The gear logo was created as part of the contest hosted by the group that founded OSHWA, and the mark was released by its designer under a Creative Commons license, opening it up for the community to use on hardware.

More than a year on, OSHWA is still in talks with OSI and both believe a resolution is near. The issue has sparked a debate on OSHWA's website, with some community members accusing OSI of policing and asking the open-source hardware organization to steer clear of OSI's licensing terms. OSI has established logo usage and trademark guidelines on its website.

OSHWA is also engaging the community on whether it should facilitate creation of a new logo or license the gear logo as a derivative work from OSI. OSHWA could theoretically argue OSI's claims in court, but it would be a waste of resources and create a wedge between open-source organizations, whose main objective is not to fight but to cooperate, wrote OSHWA president Alicia Gibb in the blog entry.

OSHWA follows the open-source ethos of working together to tweak, update and share physical hardware designs with the goal to improve products. The fledgling organization is still trying to sort out legal and licensing issues, and observers said this could be a litmus test for OSHWA's viability and the gear mark's use for hardware certification.

The gear logo has gained in popularity, and OSHWA director Nathan Seidle would love to see it stick around.

"We want to see the gear logo stamped onto bicycle parts, on the back of a wrist watch, on the bottom of a chair," said Seidle, who is also CEO of Colorado-based SparkFun Electronics, in an e-mail.

OSI, which is more grounded in software, tends to take a conservative approach to trademarks and legal discussions, which makes communication difficult, Seidle said. But OSHWA does not want trademark or legal battles with anyone, Seidle said.

"Because we have different values, it's difficult to communicate but I believe both sides are trying and doing a good job so far," Seidle said.

OSHWA initially approached OSI to ask about the relationship between the logos, and not vice versa, said Simon Phipps, president of OSI, emphasizing there was no schism between the open-source organizations.

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