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InfoQ Homepage News Google Donates Trademarks to New Foundation

Google Donates Trademarks to New Foundation

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On Wednesday, Google announced the creation of the Open Usage Foundation, and promptly transfered the trademarks of Istio along with Angular and Gerrit. According to the announcement:

The Open Usage Commons helps projects protect their project identity through programs such as trademark management and usage guidelines. We are guided by a dedication to open source, a passion for open use, and a commitment to being an organization created in service to open source projects. 

What's surprising is that Google felt the need to create a new foundation, when many existing open-source hosting foundations already exist – such as the Apache Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, and of course the Cloud Native Computing Foundaton (CNCF) which hosts many existing cloud-related projects such as Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy and many others. In fact, having worked on Istio along with Google, IBM was surprised that the CNCF wasn't the obvious home for the project:

At the project’s inception, there was an agreement that the project would be contributed to the CNCF when it was mature. IBM continues to believe that the best way to manage key open source projects such as Istio is with true open governance, under the auspices of a reputable organization with a level playing field for all contributors, transparency for users, and vendor-neutral management of the license and trademarks. Google should reconsider their original commitment and bring Istio to the CNCF.

The problem lies in the fact that while the foundation may have control of the trademarks, it is not the home of the open-source projects themselves. They continue to be directed by Google and are not following a vendor-neutral approach to project hosting; one of the requirements of moving to an existing open source foundation is to have projects based on meritocracy.

Not everyone was convinced that such a move was a good one. Arun Gupta, who is a board member of the CNCF, tweeted:

New day, new foundation, new drama ... @IstioMesh, @angular and @GerritReview are contributed to Open Usage Commons.

People on the Board of Directors are Googlers, Xoogler, Academia. No other industry collaboration?

The board of the open usage commons consist of (at the time of writing):

IBM previously observed that an open governance policy is important: 

The reality is that not all open source is truly open. Many open source projects are run by a single individual or controlled by a single vendor, and are quite closed in their governance. Other projects are welcoming of outside contributions, but are not open to outside contributors owning leadership roles that let them set technical strategy and direction. The truth is that projects that are controlled by a single individual or organization present a greater risk and lower the opportunity for collaboration and innovation.

While they could have been writing about the open usage commons foundation, that article was written in March this year.

Despite using the name 'open', the reality is that the trademarks themselves are covered by this foundation while the projects remain under Google's control. The trademarked names may not even be trademarked; despite Google's attempt to register it as a trademark, it was rejected by the USPTO according to Chris Aniszczyk, VP at the Linux Foundation and at the CNCF:

Google set up an organization with no details claiming to be solving a "trademark issue" in open source that doesn't exist given the 100+ open source foundations... using a trademark (Istio) that was rejected by the USPTO in 2019... just bonkers, sorry, nothing novel here

While it's unlikely to have any impact on the open source Istio or Gerrit projects, which are available under the Apache License, or the Angular project which is available under an MIT license, it's likely that the creation of an open trademark foundation hasn't helped Google's standing in the community. While forks are unlikely, it has confirmed that Google wants to be a prime player of these projects in the future and has no interest in donating the code to an open source foundation where meritocracy is essential.

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Community comments

  • Meritocracy Open Source

    by Song Jimmy /

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

    It's a signal that the open-source strategy of Google changed from democracy to the meritocracy.

  • Re: Meritocracy Open Source

    by Cameron Purdy /

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

    It's a signal that the open-source strategy of Google changed from democracy to the meritocracy.


    Um ... no.

    It's a sign that Google wants to retain control over the trademarks, without appearing to directly retain control over the trademarks.

    In any other area, we would call this "bait and switch".

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