from the that's-just-bad dept
See the update at the end
Almost two years ago, we excitedly wrote about the announcement behind Let’s Encrypt, a free certificate authority that was focused on dramatically lowering the hurdles towards protecting much more of the internet with HTTPS encrypted connections. It took a while to launch, but it finally did and people have been gobbling up those certificates at a rapid rate and getting more and more of the web encrypted. This is a good thing.
Unfortunately, it appears the old guard of certificate authorities doesn’t like this very much. Comodo, which has provided certificates for quite some time (and, in fact, is where Techdirt’s certificate comes from) has apparently, somewhat ridiculously, been trying to trademark versions of “Let’s Encrypt.” The most troubling one is the one on purely “Let’s Encrypt,” but the other two (Comodo Let’s Encrypt and Let’s Encrypt with Comodo) are equally problematic — especially since (as Comodo admits directly) it’s never used that phrase in offering its existing certificates.
This seems like a clear situation where Comodo is seeking to confuse the market — and thus the clear case where trademark law actually makes some sense. As we’ve said basically forever, trademark is quite different than copyrights and patents, in that it was really designed as a consumer protection law, to keep consumers from being tricked into buying something that they believe is from a different entity. Trademarks are widely and frequently abused, but there are times where the original intent of consumer protection makes sense, and this seems like one of them. What’s incredible is that when Let’s Encrypt reached out to Comodo about this, the company refused to abandon the attempt to trademark these names.
Since March of 2016 we have repeatedly asked Comodo to abandon their ?Let?s Encrypt? applications, directly and through our attorneys, but they have refused to do so. We are clearly the first and senior user of ?Let?s Encrypt? in relation to Internet security, including SSL/TLS certificates ? both in terms of length of use and in terms of the widespread public association of that brand with our organization.
If necessary, we will vigorously defend the Let?s Encrypt brand we?ve worked so hard to build. That said, our organization has limited resources and a protracted dispute with Comodo regarding its improper registration of our trademarks would significantly and unnecessarily distract both organizations from the core mission they should share: creating a more secure and privacy-respecting Web. We urge Comodo to do the right thing and abandon its ?Let?s Encrypt? trademark applications so we can focus all of our energy on improving the Web.
At the very least, this kind of stupid stunt has me reconsidering if we should ever use Comodo’s certificates on our site going forward. We’ve been a happy Comodo customer for many years, but I hate supporting bullies. Update: And… of course, after this goes public, Comodo suddenly backs down. Of course that doesn’t explain why it refused to do so when asked months ago.