Grabbing for the Python name, a hosting firm gets bitten

Over the Python Software Foundation's protests, POBox Hosting called its service 'Python Cloud' -- and saw a harsh reaction from the global open source developer community

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Taunting the reptile

Lindberg explained to me that the PSF had tolerated the use of the python.co.uk domain for email hosting, considering that the domain just redirected to Veber and POBox websites -- unfortunate, yet unlikely to mislead the public. But at the start of 2012, the PSF heard that POBox intended to launch a product called "Python Cloud." Alarms went off since Python is widely used in the cloud. The new product posed a real risk of confusing the public, so the PSF wrote to POBox in January 2012 asking it not to move forward, pointing out the PSF-registered U.S. trademark.

Instead of recognizing the potential for confusion and picking another name for its new cloud hosting product, POBox chose to argue the legal details of the trademark registration. In April 2012, it tried to counter the PSF objections by filing a Europe-wide trademark registration for a graphic prominently featuring the word "Python" in all the classes one might expect to see Python software protected.

Though POBox and the PSF had corresponded prior to the trademark filing, Poultney told me that the PSF had not responded to invitations to discuss the filing afterward. Lindberg explained that POBox had made an offer to remove "software" from the scope of the filing. This would have left a restriction on Python for all servers and Web services, which was unacceptable to the PSF and its members.

Poultney claimed he had been unaware until last week of the importance of Python to the open source community. That seems a remarkable statement. POBox uses Debian for its websites, it faces major competition from sites that use Python (such as Google App Engine), and it offers Linux hosting. Further, the PSF had corresponded with POBox in January 2012. Poultney confirmed that he'd not involved any technical staff in the decisions he'd made about the Python product brand and told me he regretted that, because it would probably have helped him understand the likely reaction to his trademark challenge.

Learning from the encounter

That reaction was huge and instructive. The PSF was clear with me that it had no intention of causing this and did not want anyone to take action other than providing evidence that could be used in objecting to the trademark filing. DDoS bullying solves nothing and is indefensible; the PSF agrees and has asked for calm. Still, immense reaction carries a clear message: Though open source foundations themselves may be small and relatively powerless, they often represent huge numbers of passionate and capable software developers worldwide.

Taking actions that show a lack of respect for those communities, especially if they have practical consequences, is unwise. In this case, POBox focused on the absolute legality of its actions, pressing its right to the domain name and the potential for defending its use of the Python name in court. In short, POBox focussed on control, but what mattered was influence. POBox offended both developers and business influencers for the hosting business the company seeks to address.

It seems likely POBox Hosting (not related to the U.S. company of the same name, who have come out on the side of the community) has accepted the painful lesson. Lindberg told me that the two parties are now in direct talks following the community reaction, though the PSF would still value help gathering trademark usage evidence in case talks break down. POBox subsidiary Veber has also removed mention of Python from its hosting page. For the rest of us, this brief and energetic incident bears testimony to the power of the global open source community.

This article, "Grabbing for the Python name, a hosting firm gets bitten," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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