The Nagios Trademark Policy – Why It’s Necessary

The Father of Nagios

One of the reasons cited for the Icinga fork was the Nagios trademark policy and Nagios Enterprises’ enforcement of it. Let me address that.

For reference, the following links provide information on the Nagios trademark:

I have found there to be a general lack of understanding in Open Source communities with regards to trademarks, trademark law, and their implications for Open Source projects. That’s understandable, as Open Source has historically been focused on copyright. The GPL, BSD, MIT and other Open Source licenses deal with copyright and methods of granting additional rights to users that are normally off-limits under “vanilla” copyright laws.

Intellectual property rights are comprised of four key components: copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade dress. Think of copyrights as the code and implementation, patents as the methodology, trademarks as the brand name, and trade dress as the look and feel of something.

Open Source projects like Nagios have licenses that grant you certain rights pertaining to the code, that would otherwise be covered by general copyright law. Open Source licenses – at least the GPL – do not address trademarks at all.

What does that mean for businesses, users, contributors, and the community that utilizes an Open Source project? By default, you don’t have any right to use a trademark (brand name) other than what is allowed to you under “fair use”. Surprised? For good reason, that’s the legal system. The same system that has protected recognizeable companies and brand names that we find all around us. The same system that may be protecting the name of the company or organization you work for, its products and services, and perhaps in the process – your job.

My stance, and the position of Nagios Enterprises, is that the community should be able to use the brand. But in a regulated manner that ensures the Nagios name, and ultimately, the Nagios project is not endangered now or in the future. Thus, we have chosen to adopt a variation of the Ubuntu trademark policy as the Nagios trademark policy. I believe Ubuntu provides a splendid example of how Open Source and trademarks should work – allowing for advocacy and individual development, while at the same time restricting and regulating commercial usage. All with the intent of protecting the project and the efforts of the community and their contributions.

Is Nagios the only project to adopt a trademark policy? No. Is Nagios Enterprises’ enforcement of the Nagios trademark policy and protection of the Nagios mark unfair? No. Nagios isn’t the first, and most certainly won’t be the last project that needs enforcement and regulation of its associated trademarks. Ubuntu and Mozilla are two other visible examples of Open Source and its intersection with trademarks.

The Nagios community is a fantastic ecosystem – it’s vibrant, varied, and huge to boot. Part of the reason for the expansion of the community over the years has been the community’s advocacy of Nagios through the use of the Nagios brand name (events, domain names, forums, wikis, mailing lists, addons, plugins, etc). Watching the community grow has been, and continues to be, a really cool phenomenon.

Nagios, in concert with its community, is something really special. It has something that no one else in the Open Source (maybe even commercial) IT monitoring space has. It has “stickiness”. It has organic. It has viral.

The community knows this. Competitors know this. Businesses with commercial interests in Nagios or the IT management space know this. Many want to align themselves with the brand. Some try to position themselves against the brand. Others try to exploit the brand for commercial gain. People know the brand is valuable and they want it or access to it.

I can’t tell you how much time, money, and effort I and Nagios Enterprises have had to devote to protecting the Nagios brand over the past seven years. We’ve had to defend against Google ads like “Nagois Alternative”, “Nag1os Alternative”, and “Nagios on Steroids”. We’ve had to defend against commercial software distributions like “ProNagios”. We’ve had to defend against foreign trademark registrations. And that’s just to name a few. Trust me when I say that this adventure has been both frustrating and educational.

I’m not a trademark attorney, but I’ve been forced to get up to speed on trademark law over the years. The reason we have “Nagios” today is because I was potentially violating another company’s trademark by using a previous name of “NetSaint” for the project. Once I took the time to learn more about trademarks and trademark law, I changed the project’s name and registered the “Nagios” trademark. I knew it was important to protect the name in 2002. And I know it’s even more important today.

Would I or Nagios Enterprises attack individuals or groups of individuals that are using (and perhaps even “violating” in a legal sense) the Nagios mark when they have no commercial intent and their usage of the mark actually benefits the Nagios brand and project? Absolutely not. That would be tantamount to insanity. It would kill the project, and as a result, the brand.

But does that mean such usage by individuals will have no regulation or restrictions placed on it? No. We need to ensure the integrity of the brand and how its used – even by individuals within the community. Failing to do so can cause enormous problems for everyone.

Commercial entities, regardless of their stated intentions, cannot and will not be allowed to use the Nagios trademark in domain names, event titles, software distributions, etc. outside of “fair use” without first getting permission from us, agreeing to a license, and using it in a manner that is regulated. Period.

I submit to you that Nagios Enterprises will continue to vigorously defend the Nagios trademark against any commercial or other usage that would endanger the Nagios brand and the future of the project. Because its the right thing to do. Because it important. Because its necessary.

I realize that any confusion on the part of the community as to our stance on the Nagios trademark and our trademark policy may very well have been due to lack of clear communication on our part. It is my hope that the information I have provided here will serve as step in the right direction towards clarification. More clarification is likely necessary and more communication will come in the near future. Until any and all confusion can be cleared up, please know this – While I have any say in the matter, I will never allow us to attack individuals within the community that use the trademark in a manner that is non-threatening to the future of Nagios. And that is likely 99.999% of users.

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