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Open-source IP: Lessons from Marc Fleury

Brand pays the bills in an open-source company. Guard it with your life.

I woke up to this post from Marc Fleury (Founder of JBoss), and found his comment about what intellectual property to protect in an open-source project to be very telling:

[P]rotecting IP in OSS [open-source software] is extremely important. The only "private" property that exists in OSS are 1- brand 2- URL. Both are obviously related but really you need to protect your brand name, in other words REGISTER your trademarks, use them, declare they are yours and enforce the trademark, meaning protect against infringement. Other products, specifically based on your product should not include your name. Consultancies will be able to say they know and work with your "product name" but they cannot ship products using your trademark. Educate yourselves on brand IP, that is a big asset in OSS.

The URL deserves the same treatment. A successful website with traffic is a source of revenue in this day and age, either directly through ad placement or indirectly by lead generation. There will be many people who try to hijack your name and your URL for their own business ends, it was always my view that they are simply committing THEFT.

What about the code itself? Well, Marc has some thoughts there, but I'll let you read them for yourself.

The critical components are related to brand, as Marc suggests. It is brand that drives business, including in an IP-worshiping proprietary world. No one buys from Oracle because of its patents. They buy because the brand suggests something to the would-be buyer.

Every activity in an open-source company should therefore be directed at maximizing the value of one's brand. The kinds of shows you demonstrate at (if any). The kinds of customers you highlight on your website. Etc. Brand pays the bills.