Thursday, 24 November 2011 09:57

Koha in fight to regain its own trademark

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The Horowhenua Library Trust, the birthplace of the Koha integrated library system, the first such open source project, finds itself in a peculiar position today, that of having to fight to regain rights to its own name.


This follows the successful application by the American defence contractor, Progressive Technology Federal Systems/Liblime, for a trademark on the name Koha in New Zealand. Koha is a Maori term that means reciprocity in giving.

The Trust has no funds to hire lawyers and has thus sought donations to regain rights to its own name. It has three months left to object to the acquisition of the trademark.

"The situation we find ourselves in, is that after over a year of battling against it, PTFS/Liblime have managed to have their application for a Trademark on Koha in New Zealand accepted," the Trust wrote in its appeal for funds. (New Zealand radio coverage of the issue is here, here and here.)

"We now have three months to object, but to do so involves lawyers and money. We are a small semi-rural library in New Zealand and have no cash spare in our operational budget to afford this, but we do feel it is something we must fight.

"For the library that invented Koha to now have to have a legal battle to prevent a US company trademarking the word in NZ seems bizarre, but it is at this point that we find ourselves."

Koha is 12 years old and the first open source system for managing libraries. Initially used only at one public library in New Zealand, the system is now used worldwide in over 1000 institutions. The project releases its code under the terms of the GNU General Public Licence.

The original author of Koha was Chris Cormack. He worked for Katipo Communications which was hired to build an integrated library system (ILS) for the Trust. The existing system was both old and not Y2K-compatible.



As use of Koha grew, several support businesses sprang up around it. One of these was Liblime, an American company, founded by a Koha developer Joshua Ferraro. Four years ago, Liblime acquired the assets that Katipo Communications had in Koha, including copyright on the source code. It began to look after the koha.org website.

About two years ago, Liblime announced that it would build a version of Koha built from a private repository for supplying its customers. Ferraro claimed this was not a fork. "LibLime Enterprise Koha is a set of deployment and development procedures that allows us to provide our customers with ongoing updates to Koha on a realistic schedule," he wrote in a message on a mailing list.

But this did not reassure the Koha community. There was sufficient disquiet for a new domain, koha-community.org, to be registered. It was looked after by a committee and owned by the Trust.

Last year, Liblime was bought by Progressive Technology Federal Systems (PTFS), itself a Koha support vendor. In April 2010, PTFS requested the community to return to the koha.org domain and create a new repository for merging of all the code. But the community members did not do so; they, instead, asked PTFS to turn over the koha.org domain to the community. As an option, PTFS was offered the opportunity to ask its developers to join the koha-community.org site and bring their code over.

This disagreement has grown over the last year into the situation in which the Trust finds itself today.

Both the Trust and PTFS have been contacted for their comment.

Details of the history of the Koha project have been paraphrased from this detailed story at the Linux Weekly News website.

 

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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