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Threatened – how do we protect our projects? May 22, 2007

Posted by Florian in GPE, Maemo, Source, World.

Some days ago a friendly colleague notified me that Mr. France registered trademarks for some community projects. At least GPE, Opie and IPKG are affected. It looks like some handhelds.org administrators believe that they personally own the projects that are or were hosted there.

Unluckily Mr. France started to work with these trademarks already even if they are not assigned yet:

  • The OpieII project had to change its name.
  • Contributors were threatened and urged to give up the name GPE
  • The GPE IRC channel (#gpe) at freenode.net was hijacked
  • Freenode staff members were threatened when they decided to give #gpe back

I just wonder what they intend to do with the distributions using IPKG (like Ångström and OpenZaurus).

Here are links to the trademark entries for Opie and GPE on the USPTO website.

One fact that raised my attention is that the entries at the USPTO server says that George France was the owner of these trademarks but http://handhelds.org/legal differs from that.

There is a thread about this topic at the Opie mailinglist starting with this message.
Finally the really interesting question: How do we get the affected projects out of this situation? Or maybe even more important: How can we reduce the risk for something like this happening again?

One idea might be to object the trademark – everyone who wants to help could send an email to the USPTO trademark assistance center (that is at TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov) Or just send them a postcard – the snailmail address is here.Google is quite useful if you want to show up that the name GPE was used before the date mentioned in the file. For the history of the name ‘Opie’ just refer to the linked mailinglist thread above.


1. Phenomena in the days of Philip » Blog Archive » Time for the GPE team to seek legal counsel? - May 23, 2007

[…] Boor, one of the GPE developers, blogged in “Threatened, how do we protect our projects” the open question to all of you: How do we get the affected projects out of this situation? Or […]

2. Eugenia - May 23, 2007

This is absolutely terrible. Handhelds.org should be ashamed of their actions. This is like Google telling me that they own my Picasa pictures!

3. Philip Van Hoof - May 23, 2007

So, let’s do something about it then, Eugenia.

4. Pēteris Krišjānis - May 23, 2007

I can’t get it, what’s going on there? How can some web page owner claim ownership of projects hosted there? What is his reasoning to act so arrogantly? Seems like emotional row for me.

5. Russ Nelson - May 23, 2007

If you want to fork a project, you have to change the name. You can’t just start issuing new releases as if you own it. The only reason you are in legal trouble is because you tried to steal Familiar, and you got fired as maintainer. Now you’re trying to steal GPE. Just change the name, like everybody else does when they fork, and stop whining.

Hh.org MUST protect its trademarks, and MUST threaten misuse. If freenode is now in legal trouble, it is only because you misled them.

6. Philip Van Hoof - May 23, 2007

Russ, dude, GPE was around long before handhelds.org had anything to do with it. How can handhelds.org then actually own that name?

The developers and people who started the GPE project are the ones who are now claiming the name. Howcome that surprises you so much? The people who created it, claim the name yet people who did not create it, try to trademark it.

So why doesn’t handhelds.ord ‘fork’ the project and why don’t “they” pick another name? What handhelds.org is doing is simply trying to steal the project name, and accusing the original authors of trying to steal their own project name. It just totally doesn’t make any sense that handhelds.org is doing.

7. James Henstridge - May 23, 2007

It seems particularly weird that he is attempting to register them personally rather than through the Handhelds.org Inc non-profit.

That said, the Handhelds.org non-profit was apparently only registered in mid 2005:


It is interesting to see the history of the legal.html page on the site though:


You can see that the trademark claims have only been there for 7 days …

8. Koen - May 23, 2007

Russ, you are confusing Florian with me, and for the record, I did not attempt to ‘steal’ Familiar, and I quit myself when I noticed George was starting his dictator-for-life act. If you can’t stand that angstrom actually has developers and a future, that’s not my or Florians problem.
Oh, and get your facts straight before defending that handhelds.org monstrosity.

Some links:


9. fl0rian - May 23, 2007

Just a few answers:
To Pēteris:
Well its quite easy: As Mr. France always said: “handhelds.org was never a community site” – they seem to have defined that hh.org was a product and everything that is on that servers belonged to them.
To Russ:
Well… what do you guys think you are?! Noone tried to steal Familiar – I asked about how decisions are made In Familiar that’s all. GPE was never part of Familiar in any way – we did not even share the same CVS. Familiar is a distribution, nothing more.
A fork means that a project is developed at more than one place, that’s not the fact – restoring the old website does not make it a project again. GPE at handhelds.org is dead, dead, _dead_. Not a single developer stayed there – only Mr. France and some of his friends told us to stay. But they only told us to do so… we never get an answer to the question *why* we should do this. Btw. you are really someone we all expect to understand that Free Software is not about Trademark protection… it is about freedom :-)
Just apart from the fact that there is not yet a valid trademark – so NOONE is in legal trouble and what do you want to fight freenode for? You call that FUD, right?

10. Chuck Burgess - May 23, 2007

Henstridge makes an excellent point… I like how this change a week ago (http://handhelds.org/cgi-bin/cvsweb.cgi/website/legal.html.diff?r1=1.11&r2=1.12&f=h) is hidden behind the CVS log note of “changed e-mail address from webmaster to admin”.

And then, 15 minutes later, he “changed e-mail back to webmaster” but leaves the snuck-in trademark stuff in there (http://handhelds.org/cgi-bin/cvsweb.cgi/website/legal.html.diff?r1=1.12&r2=1.13&f=h)

Talk about sneaking something in… rather unethical behavior. I expect we’ll be seeing him at a conference soon chanting “developers, developers, developers”.

11. Matt - May 23, 2007

You need to wait until an attorney is assigned to the trademark application. Once that happens the trademark is reviewed and then the review is published for opposition. Getting a trademark doesn’t happen overnight. Keep those links to the USPTO. All correspondence between the USPTO and the applicant will be posted there for you to read. You will have your chance to object.

12. Top Posts « WordPress.com - May 23, 2007

[…] Threatened – how do we protect our projects? Some days ago a friendly colleague notified me that Mr. France registered trademarks for some community projects. At […] […]

13. Chuck Burgess - May 24, 2007
14. Russell Nelson - May 25, 2007

Ahhh, yes, sorry, you’re right, that was Koen who tried to abscond with Familiar. I apologize.

15. Russell Nelson - May 25, 2007

About the trademark: there seems to be a difference in how trademarks are created between Europe and the U.S. In Europe, a trademark doesn’t exist until it’s registered. In the U.S. a trademark doesn’t exist until it’s used in commerce.

Freedom? You’re quite right. You have the freedom to choose your fate: rename GPE or accept the trouble you’ve caused.

You can construe GPE as belonging to Nils, and we can construe it as belonging to the Handhelds.org community. Who is right? We both think we’re right. Maybe it would be better for neither of us to have the name?

16. fl0rian - May 25, 2007

Oh Russ, that’s a good idea – but if noone should own these trademarks why does Mr. France urge projects to give up that name? Why did he ever register these trademarks? The only thing it does is putting pressure on the community an I am not going to accept this.
The difference between Mr. France and us is that we just use the name in peace freedom and Mr. France wants to own it – he and noone else.
I just want to quote him: “Handhelds.org was never a community site”. So why should a community project be owned by hh.org?

17. Joe McCarthy - May 29, 2007

Russ, Florian, et al.

If any of you recognize my handle (mccarthy), you realize that I have been around this “scene: for quite some time (since *before* GPE had a code-base at all, or at least worth talking about). Back then, familiar was the main deal on hh.org, and there was essentially nothing but python-related code around.

I distinctly remember, and can certainly back up with email documentation, that Nils suggested a C-based project that would include PIM and other apps named GPE. At the time, the best (i.e., most usable) PIM software was created by “dc” called storm (a python app that I still have a copy of). I wrote a bunch of GUI, recurrence, and alarm-related code for his project but them was intriged by Nils’ suggestion. Having run into some fledgling work by pb on a calendar app for GPE, I gave all of my code and some new stuff to him to egg him on a bit.

I have to say, that for at least the year or so following this, PB was more “owner” of GPE than anyone as somewhere close to 90% of all code was coming from his commits. Since that time, there have been TONS of other developers, but I do not recall *ever* anyone on the hh.org side of this argument ever contributing to GPE in any way whatsoever!

It seems silly to call it a “fork” when it is (really, was) simply a *move*. There is possibly ONE developer that has actually participated in the GPE “community” that I can think of that thinks that hh.org has/had/ or should have any stock in GPE or its name.

18. Handhelds.org VS GPE - Blorigo Blog - June 12, 2007

[…] Florian Fuchs; […]

19. fl0rian - August 24, 2007

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