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Debian trademark policy under question

Developers discuss whether Linux project needs to change policy in light of recent legal moves.

The leader of the Debian Linux distribution has called for changes to be made to the open-source project's trademark policy, to ensure it has the appropriate level of protection against legal challenges.

Debian's current trademark policy states that businesses can use the Debian trademark if they make a CD of the Debian version of Linux, but cannot use Debian in the name of their business.

Branden Robinson, Debian's project leader, said on Tuesday that this policy needs an update.

"It is widely understood within the Debian Project that our existing trademark policy, originally formulated in 1998, is too vague, and has not scaled well to suit Debian's much greater degree of success and market penetration (on its own, and in the form of derivatives) seven years later," Robinson wrote in an article on the Debian Web site.

Robinson said there are various questions that project members must address when deciding how to change the policy. These include whether Debian Linux should have a trademark at all, and whether the trademark can be used to penalize those who "prey upon" the community.

The importance of having a stringent trademark policy was shown in the recent ruling by Australia's intellectual-property agency, which rejected an attempt to register the word "Linux" on behalf of Linus Torvalds, who wrote the Linux operating system kernel. Intellectual Property Australia said the word "Linux" was not distinctive enough to be trademarked and was similar to other trademarks owned locally.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.