[OSGeo-Conf] OSGeo and FOSS4G as a trademark

Jeroen Ticheler jeroen.ticheler at geocat.net
Wed Sep 17 10:03:38 PDT 2014

Hi all,

In the past we have had discussions on the different mailinglists about the FOSS4G trademark and if there is an owner for this or not. I'd like to bring this up again since I think it is relevant in the context of the discussions about e.g. a relationship / collaboration between OSGeo and LocationTech. It would be good if the existing disambiguates would be resolved :-)

History has it that OSGeo takes the lead in organizing the annual global event under the name FOSS4G. Local conferences can also use FOSS4G in their name. 

There is not a clear event policy for the use of the FOSS4G brandname. Reading the Official OSGeo Event Policy [1], you are safe to use it as long as this has been approved by the OSGeo board. The OSGeo Conference Policy page [2] doesn't provide much more information, except that history has shown OSGeo runs the conferences according to the described "vanilla" FOSS4G model. The FOSS4G Cookbook actually leaves the decision to the Conference Committee [3] stating "Use of the name "FOSS4G" is managed by the OSGeo Conference Committee. As a courtesy, events which wish to make use of the "FOSS4G" name should request permission to do so from the conference committee. Permission will be granted if the event being described is predominantly (say >90%) about Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial."

Venka Raghavan and Shinji Masumoto agreed to donate the foss4g.org domain name to OSGeo on 3rd October 2007 with the understanding that there will be no restrictions on the free usage of the FOSS4G acronym for the legitimate purpose of promoting Free and Open Source Software for Geoinformatics. [4]

So from a historical perspective OSGeo is the effective trademark holder of FOSS4G and the board or conference committee votes who can use it or not. Except (and this is crucial I think!) that there is an understanding that "there will be no restrictions on the free usage of the FOSS4G acronym ... etc ...".

It would really help if Venka and Shinji amend the agreement so that OSGeo is the sole entity that can decide who is allowed to use the FOSS4G trademark or not. This doesn't mean OSGeo should change its policy, after all the foundation has as its core mandate to promote FOSS for Geospatial.

Removing this issue will help OSGeo when collaborations / MoU's are discussed. 

It will also ensure that the relationship between OSGeo and a LOC is clearer. The LOC should follow certain requirements OSGeo puts up (such as having a booth, having a very clear OSGeo marketing strategy (marketing the OSGeo brand at FOSS4G), etcetera). This has been an issue with almost all conferences.

It would also help to protect OSGeo's financial interest in the conferences, ensuring the proceedings benefit the foundation as much as possible. This has so far never been a real problem, we've had great LOC's with fantastic, responsible teams.

As a consequence, OSGeo could actually decide to invest let's say $15k to employ a person parttime to assist the LOC and PCO. Some more resources could be invested in ensuring we run a conference website that is reused every year. It could take a lot of load off the LOC and help continuity.

OSGeo has a vested interest in running the annual FOSS4G event effectively and ensuring LOC's won't burn out easily. And frankly, if OSGeo can't have the guarantees it requires to be the sole, unrestricted owner of the FOSS4G trademark, I think we shouldn't be scared of using another name for the annual conference (nor local ones that wish to associate themselves with OSGeo).


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