Saturday, March 24, 2007

What Do You Stand For?

I've spent the better part of my career as a software developer, bouncing back and forth between Product Management/Marketing and Development since 2000, and programming since the mid-80's before that. In my transition to the Marketing "dark side", I have to admit that it took me a while to get what "Brand" really means.

Yeah, yeah, I's simple stupid! Kleenex, Band-Aid, Google, and Coca-Cola are examples of good brands with well established trademarks. It's easy to spot good do you think they got to be valued brands in the first place? How much effort did it take for them to build real Brand Equity that fuels their business?

Red Hat spends a lot of time, money, and effort on establishing our brand. Red Hat has been named the industry leader in delivering customer value 3 years running. In order for our brand to maintain its value, we need to ensure our trademarks are used in a proper and consistent way. If not, then legally we can lose our trademarks. For example, "elevator" used to be a registered trademark but the owners allowed their trademark to be used unchecked as a generic name and ultimately lost their trademark protection. Band-Aid, on the other hand, has protected its trademark over the years and maintained its brand equity.

Red Hat and the proper use of the Hibernate trademark was a topic of debate in the news recently. Since I am not a lawyer, have no desire to be a lawyer, and want to avoid legal debates on this topic, I will simply point folks to the Red Hat Trademark Policies page which contains links to our detailed Trademark Guidelines document and Trademark Style Sheet/Usage document for the official details.

When you look at the details of the Hibernate issue closely, it really comes down to the importance of protecting the brand equity built up in the registered trademark. There are guidelines for how to properly use trademarks, such as Hibernate, and following these guidelines is really not an onerous task. Allowing people to not follow the guidelines is a sure path to losing your trademark and subsequent brand value.

Bottom-line: If you cherish the value of your brand, then every now and then you will need to defend what you stand for.


Michael Neale said...

Good post Shaun.

A lot of people have confused brand/trademark with open source product. I tell people, and always have, that the key test for open source if fork-ability.

If the "community at large" really didn't like what is happening, hibernate (for example) is LGPL and a fork could happen - but the community is happy - so it hasn't happened !
Whats not to like about that? keeps everyone honest, people can still make money off things.

Rickard said...

Do you know why "Hibernate" is registered as a service trademark and not a product trademark? I thought "Hibernate" was a piece of software, but it seems I'm wrong.

Shaun Connolly said...

Hibernate is registered as both a trademark and servicemark. The reason for this is due to the fact that we are in the business of providing subscriptions and services for our open source technologies. As such, we need to ensure proper usage of our "marks" as it relates to both.

Shaun Connolly said...

Since I have seen some othet blogs covering this topic, I will also post here a comment I've posted elsewhere:

Mark Webbink, legal counsel for Red Hat replied on the original blog:

Note that Mark Webbink stated:
"First, the letter is not placed into the context of the situation it was addressing. That presents the opportunity for misinterpretation. At the same time, I would agree that the letter is less than precise in defining what has been done wrong and the corrective action that is required. Ultimately, that is my fault as the person in charge of trademark enforcement at Red Hat."

Since I am not a lawyer, I've stayed away from the legal arguments in this blog.

I have tried, however, to explain the rationale for why companies need to take measures to protect trademarks.

Shaun Connolly said...

To properly put this topic to be, I'll link to Daryl Taft's followup article on this topic:,1895,2107174,00.asp

The key part of the above article is:
"To clarify the situation, Webbink wrote: "...You cannot offer Hibernate training or JBoss training. This is an improper use of Red Hat trademarks in that the marks are being used (a) either as nouns or (b) to promote a good or service that is directly branded with Red Hat owned marks. What is permissible is that you are permitted to offer Hibernate Object Relational Mapping Software Training or, as another example, JBoss Application Server Training. Here the marks are being applied to the goods in a proper manner and it is clear that the training is being provided for that branded technology, not by the brand owner. As a further common courtesy, it would also be appropriate for those properly using the marks in this manner to make clear that they are not in any way associated with Red Hat or its JBoss Division."

In essence, Webbink is asking trainers and consultants to add a few words to differentiate their offerings and not simply say they are providing Hibernate or JBoss training.