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Thursday, 12 December 2013 15:07

Koha wins trademark stoush with US defence contractor Featured

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After a protracted legal battle, the Horowhenua Library Trust, the birthplace of the open source Koha integrated library system, has succeeded in preventing an American defence contractor from poaching its trademark.

The problem surfaced back in November 2011 when the American defence contractor, Progressive Technology Federal Systems/Liblime, applied successfully for a trademark on the name Koha in New Zealand.

The Trust had no funds to hire lawyers and sought donations to regain the rights to its own name. It was aided in its fight by Wellington open source company, Catalyst.

The contractor attempted to pour oil on troubled waters by offering to hand ownership of the name to a non-profit representing the Koha community.

But the Trust maintained that there was only one such organisation – itself.

The original author of Koha, Chris Cormack, told iTWire today: "This decision allows Koha users, developers, and support companies to continue with Koha without the uncertainty of potential problems with the name."

Cormack, who works for Catalyst, said: "While the Trademark application didn't slow down the pace of Koha development or adoption, it does feel like now a weight has been lifted.

"This was a big team effort and I'd like to extend  my personal thanks to all involved. "

Koha is a Maori word that means reciprocity in giving.

"I was really pleased," Cormack told Radio New Zealand  "It came in my email yesterday. It's nearly three years now... they first lodged the application in April 2010, so it was a relief more than anything else.

"If the trademark had been given, then potentially Liblime could have restricted the use of who used it so, the utter worst case was perhaps we would have had to rename the software in New Zealand which would have caused massive confusion."

Liblime will have to bear all the litigation costs.

The Koha integrated library system is 14 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. The project releases its code under the terms of the GNU General Public Licence.

When Cormack originally wrote Koha, he was working 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. Six 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 four years ago, Liblime announced that it would release 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.

In 2010, 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 grew into the situation in which the Trust found itself in November 2011.

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

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Sam Varghese

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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