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“Death Threats” In Python Software Trademark Row

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Python programmers tangle with a cloud firm over the trademark

Users of the Python open source programming language are fighting a web services firm for the Python trademark in Europe – and the company, which owns the puthon.co.uk domain, says it has received death threats.

The Python Software Foundation (PSF) has been tangling with a Watford-based web services firm called Our Holdings, since the UK company last year decided to launch a cloud offering using the Python name, on the python.co.uk domain.

The PSF contacted Our Holdings regarding its plans to launch “Python Cloud”, but last week the argument escalated when the PSF published a blog post on the matter calling  for help from its developers and customers.

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The resulting flood of traffic to python.co.uk rendered the website unreachable – as of Tuesday morning it was still inaccessible – and Our Holdings managing director Tim Poultney told The Guardian that he had received death threats from PSF sympathisers. Poultney said he had suspended his company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts due to the hostile comments they received.

Python is an open source programming language widely used as a scripting language for web applications, with users including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and NASA, as well as Our Holdings itself.

The language was implemented beginning in 1989 and the PSF has held a US trademark since 2004; the organisation told the Guardian it began the process of registering a European trademark in 2009, but put the process on hold due to budgetary constraints caused by the global economic downturn.

The PSF had been aware of Our Holdings’ use and ownership of the python.co.uk domain, but had not taken action earlier because the organisation didn’t feel the trademark issue was urgent, PSF chairman Van Lindberg said in his online appeal.

Lack of communication

python

“This hasn’t been an issue since (1997) because the python.co.uk domain has, for most of its life, just forwarded its traffic on to the parent companies, veber.co.uk and pobox.co.uk,” Lindberg wrote. “Unfortunately, Veber has decided that they want to start using the name ‘Python’ for their server products.” Veber and POBOX are trading names used by Our Holdings.

The PSF and Our Holdings say they have been in contact over the matter on and off since early last year, with Our Holdings filing an application for a European trademark on the word “Python” for software, cloud backup and virtual servers services in April 2012.

The PSF filed its own European trademark application this February, with Lindberg calling on Python users to supply testimonials that can be used to support the application.

“According to our London counsel, some of the best pieces of evidence we can submit to the European trademark office are official letters from well-known companies ‘using Python branded software in various member states of the EU’ so that we can ‘obtain independent witness statements from them attesting to the trade origin significance of the Python mark in connection with the software and related goods/services’,” Lindberg wrote. “We also need evidence of use throughout the EU.”

Legal action

Lindberg also called on supporters to make donations to support a possible legal action, called a trademark opposition, which he said could cost up to tens of thousands of dollars.

The risk is that organisations offering access to Python in Europe, for instance as part of a hosting plan, could be found in violation of Our Holdings’ trademark if this is granted, according to Lindberg.

Poultney, for his part, said Our Hosting is open to negotiations over the use of the Python name in Europe, and has said he is considering a PSF suggestion that Our Hosting’s trademark be limited to cloud backup and virtual server services. Both Lindberg and Poultney claim the other party has been unresponsive to attempts to negotiate.

“We were talking to them but they didn’t get back to us so we filed for the trademark. And now, with 14 days remaining, the PSF has got back to me at 5.30pm on a Friday,” Poultney told The Guardian.

It is common for businesses operating in different fields to use the same trademarked name, one of the best-known examples of this in the IT industry being computer maker Apple and record label Apple Music. As The Guardian remarked, the European trademark database shows that 16 other companies besides Our Holdings have applied for trademarks on the word “Python”, with the earliest dating back to 1964.

As of Tuesday morning, python.co.uk remained inaccessible, but a search engine cache of the site indicates that as of earlier this month the site was offering services including “Python Cloud Servers” and “Python Cloud Backup”. Veber.co.uk was also inaccessible.

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