Home Business IT Open Source Koha dev sad, angry at American trademark grab

The original developer of the Koha open source integrated library system (ILS) says he feels a mixture of sadness and anger over the attempt by an American defence contractor to trademark the name Koha in New Zealand.

As reported in iTWire yesterday, the Horowhenua Library Trust, the birthplace of Koha, is soliciting donations to try and regain rights to the name after Progressive Technology Federal Systems/Liblime obtained a trademark on the name Koha in New Zealand.

Koha is a Maori term that means reciprocity in giving.

Chris Cormack, who now works for New Zealand's biggest open source firm, Catalyst, told iTWire that the trademark had only been accepted at this stage and that the Trust had three months from the gazetted date - November 25 - to object.

He said his reaction was one of "extreme sadness tinged with anger. Sadness because it's such an utterly needless thing to do. Anger because, again, it's a needless thing to do, that causes a lot of ill-will and distracts people from the real task of creating a good free and open source software ILS".

Asked about the growth of the original project, Cormack that at present there were 159 developers from around the world who had committed code to Koha.

"Joshua Ferraro, the person who started Liblime and who sold it to PTFS, was the 27th person to commit code, in June 2003. But then he was working for Athens County Public Library, in Ohio. It wasn't until April 13, 2005, that Liblime came into the Koha world. Koha 2.2.2 was released on April 8, 2005." 

Cormack said that in 2007 he and two others from Katipo Communications went to work at Liblime, starting on April 1, 2007. By then, 45 people had committed code to Koha.

Katipo was the company which was hired to build the integrated library system for the Trust back in 1999 as the existing system was both old and not Y2K-compatible.

"By about September of that year (2007) it became clear to us that Liblime was heading in a direction that wasn't good for the project," Cormack said. " We had all left Katipo to work at Liblime because that would allow us to work on Koha full-time and we honestly thought it would be good for the project.

"Hindsight is 20/20. When it became clear that our protests were falling on deaf ears, we resigned on March 2, 2008. (A total of) 54 distinct people had code in Koha by then."

Asked whether it was possible that PTFS wanted to trade on the name Koha because its own efforts were going nowhere while the original Koha project was doing well in terms of take-up, Cormack responded "I don't suggest I have any knowledge of why they did this, but that is definitely one hypothesis.

"If you look here you will see that in 2011 Liblime lost 102 libraries; 97 of them went to Koha, four to Apollo and one to Millennium (both proprietary systems). I feel that some of the animosity directed at the Koha community may well come from the fact that they (PTFS) are losing customers."

He said he did not think Ferraro joined the project with the ultimate intention of forking it. "No, no I don't think so. For a while there, Liblime was a real force for good in the Koha ecosphere, at least until mid-2007."

Cormack said there were lots of forks. "It's pretty much how development works, you fork and work on a feature and commit it back up. Fork and merge, fork and merge.

"But no, no other forks of this scale, the fork occurred (according to Clay from Liblime) in September 2009. So they are now vastly different pieces of software.

"I think the thing that makes this one special is Liblime do their own releases, with their own version numbers. The Koha project recently released 3.6.0. Liblime have released 4.2 and, according to their press releases, have 4.8 in production. It is just very confusing to people (who are) new to Koha."

Asked whether anyone had tried to explain to PTFS the significance of the choice of name - Koha - and the fact that choosing an indigenous name meant something beyond the ordinary, Cormack replied: "I think so, certainly I think the information on the name is out there in easy-to-find places."

He said he had no issue with the fork, "apart from the naming, which confuses people, perhaps intentionally. The trademarking, on the other hand, as a New Zealander of Maori heritage, I find an action without merit."


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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