Last week, we were among those both surprised and disappointed to find out that Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu operating system, had been acting like a trademark bully
. However, the company appears to have quickly and thoroughly responded to the claim, apologizing multiple times and explaining everything in great detail. If you want to see how
to respond to a flub, this is not a bad example. First, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's founder posted an apology via Google+
flat out stating that the company had messed up:
This was a bit silly on our part, sorry. Our trademark guidelines specifically allow satire and critique ('sucks sites') and we should at most have asked him to state that his use of the logo was subject to those guidelines.
He later updated the post to note that thanks to the ridiculousness of trademark laws, in which you're often expected to "defend" your mark to avoid losing it (though, really, that's only supposed to apply to situations where there's a likelihood of confusion...) they should have just given the FixUbuntu site a free license:
We are obliged to have SOME agreement in place with anyone using the Ubuntu logo. Rules for nominative use are subjective and thus a policy and agreements are required if we want Ubuntu to remain a defensible mark. It's a pain but that's the system.
In this case we should just have said 'you may use the mark if you say that you are doing so with permission'. I guess a new guy made a bad call, but that happens and there's no point in beating Canonical up over an inadvertent slip.
At around the same time, Steve George from Canonical posted a blog post again explaining in more detail
that the company is very open with its trademarks, even for sites that criticize them (though, he did ridiculously claim that there might be some confusion here -- which seems highly unlikely):
In the case of fixubuntu.com, we were concerned that the use of the trademark implied a connection with and endorsement from the Ubuntu project which didn’t exist. The site owner has already agreed to remove the Ubuntu logo and clarified that there is no connection; from our perspective the situation has been resolved, and we have no issue with the site or the criticism it includes. In fact, far from an trying to silence critics, our trademark policy actually calls out parody and criticism and other uses as being allowed when the marks are used appropriately. (Please make the parodies funny – we need a good laugh as much as anyone!)
Shuttleworth then responded again, in more detail on his own blog, explaining how the company was too aggressive
and how it was a mistake. As he noted, there are some instances where it helps to be able to really threaten abuse, and here the lawyer who sent the letter "chose the wrong template":
In order to make the amount of correspondence manageable, we have a range of standard templates for correspondence. They range from the “we see you, what you are doing is fine, here is a license to use the name and logo which you need to have, no need for further correspondence”, through “please make sure you state you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the company or the product”, to the “please do not use the logo without permission, which we are not granting unless you actually certify those machines”, and “please do not use Ubuntu in that domain to pretend you are part of the project when you are not”.
Last week, the less-than-a-month-at-Canonical new guy sent out the toughest template letter to the folks behind a “sucks” site. Now, that was not a decision based on policy or guidance; as I said, Canonical’s trademark policy is unusually generous relative to corporate norms in explicitly allowing for this sort of usage. It was a mistake, and there is no question that the various people in the line of responsibility know and agree that it was a mistake. It was no different, however, than a bug in a line of code, which I think most developers would agree happens to the best of us. It just happened to be, in that analogy, a zero-day remote root bug.
There are still some reasonable criticisms to be made of this whole thing. For instance, some may argue that a better way to deal with the situation in the first place would be to make the change the FixUbuntu site was advocating for in the first place -- better protecting users' privacy. But, on the whole, it's pretty rare to see a company so openly admit to mistakes being made and explaining in so much details what happened.