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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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Community comments

  • The Animal Farm

    by Agustin Villena,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    As I see, the Scrum Alliance is taking its metaphor of pigs and chickens to unexpected ends. I remebre the book "The Animal Farm" (George Orwell) and remember whete the pigs first lead the revolution, and finally sells their own kind to the former farm owners. (In this case, the PMI)

    As far as I'm an XP and Lean follower, I don't have to sign any document to and organization that slowly betrays the (open and free) agile movement.

  • Scrum (TM) is a dirty word

    by rob bowley,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    This sums up everything that's wrong with the Scrum movement and why ultimately it will fail. Whilst I think there is still value in many of the teachings of Scrum I really don't like to refer to it as a practice anymore.

  • Scrum Alliance is working to Fix this

    by Mark Levison,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Since this news item was first written the Jim Cundiff and others with the Scrum Alliance have been working with Cory Foy and others to find a better approach. More details are to be found on the Scrum Development newsgroup.

    From Cory: "I admit I was initially skeptical whether we could make this work, but I feel much more confident that this was a mistake across the board that we can all learn from, and work to figure out how to keep from happening."

  • Re: The Animal Farm

    by Jim Leonardo,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    While I think you're on the right trail, I think the metaphor is more that the farmers dressed up as the pigs to sneak into the farm and take back over. I'm certainly feeling that the agile movement is being taken over by the bureaucrats and fear mongers that have been the real bane of development since day one. I don't think it's the original folks for the most part, just that more and more people are moving in without really understanding what agile means other than a buzzword.

    To a certain extent, having trademarks actually helps keep Scrum pure. Otherwise, anyone can call what they're doing Scrum and no one can make them stop even if it is the waterfall pig with lipstick on it. However, this case with the UG points flaws in that reasoning.

  • good intentions, shame about the actions

    by Paul Oldfield,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    The Scrum Alliance are working on a fix for the complaints made to them, they should have something by the end of the week.

    Their intentions, as reported, would seem to be good; they want to prevent the misuse of the 'brand' "Scrum"; to ensure people and organisations cannot sell things that claim to be Scrum but are not. That's a goal I can support.

    However, their tactics are poorly chosen and their communications skills are woefully inadequate - hardly a good example of 'agile' at work. Let's hope they inspect and adapt. Claiming ownership of the term "Scrum User Group" is a further example of the excessive arrogance they have shown in the past. Let it drop, guys.

  • Agile is becoming rigid

    by Dmitry Tsygankov,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    , unfortunately. Well, maybe true Agile is in the hearts of the people. Any good practice can be subverted if it's not coming from within. The more you focus on individual practices, the more of that happens.
    'Why are we doing this?' 'Because I'm the Product Owner.'
    'Why did you do this?' 'Oh, it's not me, it was Product Owner's idea.'
    'We shouldn't do this, because this is not Scrum (TM).'
    One cannot certify the inner feeling of responsibility for the project, no one can measure it. The same with the feeling of being in the same pack.
    If you can talk about it, it ain't Tao. If it has a name, it's just another thing. Tao doesn't have a name.
    If I were to certify Scrum as an Agile technique, I wouldn't do that.

  • Re: good intentions, shame about the actions

    by stephen lawrence,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Fantastic - go the revolution. Nothing like a good ole barney about the IP of a word. What will the scrum alliance do if the IRB (International Rugby Board)and league guys patent the term 'scrum'. There is of course a lot of discussion around the beneifts or pitfalls of IP protection - for a product - yes there is definitely merit - but for a process- nope you will litigate something that just adds up to cost with no value. Hell Agile is not owned by anyone- Don't try to make it so.
    Scrum is fantastic for transitioning waterfall organisations to an agile approach but it is not long before Scrum becomes to constricting and they branch out and adopt other frameworks techiniques and practises to add greater value. If we as an agile community are stopped from using scrum terminilogy there is a lot of alternatives.
    To me this smacks of the ridiculous.

  • Re: The Animal Farm

    by Agustin Villena,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.


    "Pure Scrum"? What are you referring to?
    Takeuchi & Nanaka's metaphor (1986)?
    The version presented in OOPSLA '96 by Scwhaber?
    Or the amalgam between Scwahber's Scrum and the XP's Planning Game used today?

    The problem of "purity" is that this concept, originally meant to separate agile guys from waterfall ones, now is used against the agile-fans...

  • So what?

    by Olivier Gourment,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I am not sure I understand the point of the article here. Why is this important? Has anyone read the licensing agreement and is there anything wrong with its contents?

  • Good Response from ScrumAlliance

    by Paul Oldfield,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Scrum Alliance posted a message i response to the criticisms - copied below. It would seem to augur well for the future. Their response...
    Last week, the Scrum Alliance sent out a notice to our registered user groups requesting their agreement to terms of using the Scrum Alliance logo. This caused some confusion in the community, and we apologize. Our goal was not to make it more difficult for the community, but that is what happened.

    The response from the community was swift, passionate and is something that we cherish. We recognize that the community is one of our biggest assets, and we want to ensure that moving forward your voice is heard.

    To make that happen, we are making several changes as an organization:

    1) We've emailed the affected user groups and informed them not to sign a licensing agreement. Instead we will post guidelines for those who wish to use a Scrum Alliance Scrum User Group logo.

    2) We do want to provide, for groups who wish to use them, Scrum Alliance materials. This can include logos, forms, marketing materials and other elements. By the end of this week, we will post a draft of a set of guidelines to the Scrum Development list for how we'll ask groups to use the materials. The guidelines will then be posted on the Scrum Alliance website. We'll also be putting clear guidelines for how to get your group on the Scrum Alliance site, how to request materials and speakers, etc.

    3) We recognize that one benefit we can provide to the community is a common voice and a point of contact that the community can go to whenever questions arise, or concerns need to be heard. To help facilitate this, we've hired Cory Foy as a Community Liaison. I've tasked Cory to build a coalition of community leaders and to serve as that common point of contact for community events and user groups

    4) Finally, we want to make sure that the community understands that we want to serve you. There are several initiatives that we have undertaken as the Scrum Alliance to build and serve the Scrum Community that aren't always visible to the community as a whole. We're going to be working on ways to publicize what we are doing, and how you can get involved in these initiatives.

    I personally want to thank all of you for the wonderful feedback, the constructive criticism, and the passion that you show for Scrum and the Scrum community. I hope that we can work to build and spread Scrum throughout your communities and all over the world. Thank you.


    Jim Cundiff
    Managing Director
    Scrum Alliance

  • Deliberate Structure Is Scarey but Necessary

    by Doug Shimp,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Scrum user groups, Agile user groups, XP users groups many of these I have seen come and go. I have tried and been unsuccessful at sustaining these groups and have seen similar patterns from others. However, I have followed others who were experienced and they have taught me.

    It is my experience that these groups are driven by people who are not use to some necessary deliberate (self included) structure. Deliberate structure includes officers, organizing boards, keeping it interesting, volunteering, stimulating vibrancy and “marks (like SCRUMUSERGROUP)” from International organizations that help with credibility. These structures help groups sustain their existence. SPIN Groups have years of history, PMI groups have years of history, APLN has better success (different make up of people on avaerage)Agile groups often seem to pop and die like grapes on the vine.

    The Scrum Alliance is offering help by holding these marks and building brand value. Structure / value so that the group adopts some deliberate structure to stay organized enough to sustain it’s existence. We (agile community) need to learn from other groups that have a history and stop being so scared when something looks restrictive.

    Doug Shimp

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