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Scrum Alliance Asks User Group to Sign Licensing Agreement

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In what appears to be another move to gain control of the Scrum brand, the Scrum Alliance has laid claim to the term "Scrum User Group". Discussion was heated today on the ScrumDevelopment yahoo group, but the implications of this move remain unclear. The initial yahoo group post by Cory Foy, entitled "Scrum User Group Closes" stated that:

This afternoon, the Orlando Scrum User Group posted on their site that they are having to close up shop because they were asked to sign a licensing agreement and branding image for their group, and that the SA had laid claims to the term "Scrum User Group".

Cory's post was looking for further facts related to the original post on the Orlando's Scrum User Group site, which in turn mentioned an email from the Scrum Alliance asking the site's administrator "to sign and agree to a licensing document for a logo they created for Orlando Scrum users group."

Reactions on the ScrumDevelopment list ranged from outrage to "Don't Panic" and "All you'd have to do is change a word here and there.", and included "Because scrum is a common word, it will be difficult for Scrum Alliance to enforce any claims" and "As this is only a US [legality] I will happily ignore it :)" from a Scrum coach in Canada.

A subsequent statement from the Scrum Alliance's managing director, Jim Cundiff explained:

Registering our various trademarks is the best way for us to protect our intellectual properties (IP). The name Scrum User Group and the associated Scrum User Group logo are trademarks claimed by the Scrum Alliance. We offer the use of these marks to organizations and groups of individuals who wish to be registered as a Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group. We were under the impression that the Orlando Scrum User Group desired to be listed as a Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group. As such this group would be entitled to the use of a localized Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group logo and all other rights and privileges associated with being a licensed and registered Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group. This includes customized postings on our website, potential sponsorship funding for local events and featured speakers provided by the Scrum Alliance. Other Scrum User Groups have found these benefits to be of great value.

Cundiff further explained:

We have not requested the Orlando Scrum User Group cease operations nor do we intend to start another Scrum User Group in Orlando. Only that if the local Scrum User Group wishes to use our name and logo and be recognized as a Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group that a representative from the group sign a licensing agreement. There is no fee associated with this agreement, the Scrum Alliance does not charge fees to local Scrum User Groups.
[emphasis added: editor]

Given that these are typically informal groups, one wonders: who could sign such a legal agreement? And if a group member signs - how are they to ensure that the group respects the agreement? Responses to this specific issue include Cory Foy: "I ran a small Scrum Mailing list here in Tampa... all I did was click "create" on a Yahoo! group - and now I have to be held legally responsible?" and Chad Eaves, administrator of the site: "why would anyone volunteering his or her time want to deal with these issues?" and (Eaves again) "I am uncomfortable signing licensing agreement for a group that has no legal entity, [that] I have no real control over..."

The closing comment by the SA, "If you do not wish your local user group to be registered as a Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group then there is no need for you to sign a licensing agreement with the Scrum Alliance" does not seem to add any clarity to the situation. Cory  called this statement into question:

"What if you don't want to be listed as a SA Scrum User Group, but just as a Scrum User Group? Since you [the SA] registered the trademarks ... that's pretty clear."

Nonetheless, Cory also posted: "I can say that I've happily registered and have no intention of signing any sort of a document, since I don't want to be listed on the site."

Does the Scrum Alliance actually own the term "Scrum User Group?" A search for "Scrum" at the US Patent and Trademarking Office reveals applications to patent this service mark, (citing "first use" in March of 2008), but it has not yet been granted, nor is it a national application. The application's current status is listed as:

"A non-final action has been mailed. This is a letter from the examining attorney requesting additional information and/or making an initial refusal. However, no final determination as to the registrability of the mark has been made."

Which raises another question: which Scrum Alliance service is being "service marked" with the term "Scrum User Group"? Amanda Abelove:

"if I sign something that represents a service, I have to be on board with the service. And there actually needs to be a service to be on board with. So we all got logos and contracts out of nowhere after running and funding our groups on our own... "

Why is the Scrum Alliance doing this now - since Scrum User Groups have been mentioned on the Scrum Alliance site since 2005? Robert Dempsey, a member of the defunct Orlando Scrum User Group conjectured:

"I understand that the Scrum Alliance may be working toward adding a greater level of legitimacy to the certifications (since it is now recognized by the PMI)... However, user groups are created by volunteers with a passion to advocate and help. Legal documents can have a stifling effect."

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