It was pointed out over drinks (the Berkman Center is a happening place) that perhaps the better model for open source projects to use to think about trademark is not traditional software or business, but political parties. There is no trademark on ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’, or the donkey or the elephant, but those organizations manage to do OK (at least as organizations- whether or not they succeed at doing good things is a different question, unrelated to their use of trademark.)
Offhand, they do this in a number of ways, though I’m sure there must be others:
- They tolerate failure. Some nutball claims he is a democrat? That is irritating but not the end of the world.
- Local parties just about everywhere- little incentive to create parallel organizations, because you can always just get involved in the local one. You have more influence within the real one anyway.
- There must be more but my brain is melting.
Of course, the model doesn’t apply perfectly by any stretch of the imagination- for one thing, all parties are similarly ‘crippled’, whereas the competition of free software does not (yet) have similar trademark/identity issues.
Anyway, I think I’ll think about this more. It seems inevitable that if I go back to school I’ll get drawn back to my aborted senior thesis topic- relationship of the GPL and BSD to organizational structure in Free Software (though I’d probably generalize it now to something like ‘goods licensing in commons-based peer production.’)