Protecting the Plone trademark
As background, when the Plone Foundation started its bootstrapping process in 2004, securing the trademark was one of the first tasks under the "Protect and Promote" mission. Two issues, though: (a) the Plone Foundation didn't exist yet and (b) no budget was available yet.
So Zea Partners was used as a non-profit agent to do the trademark work, contractually-obligated to transfer the trademarks at the end of the process. Additionally, 10 or so companies pooled money to front the Plone Foundation for the costs. Later, when the Plone Foundation came into existence and had the money, these 10 companies were re-paid, as was Zea for the registration work.
In late September 2007, just before the annual conference, the last shoe dropped: the registration finished in one of the last remaining countries. Xavier Heymans from Zea prepared the transfer papers, Paul Everitt signed at the Naples Plone Conference, and the work is done.
This is so cool in so many ways. It's fair: the playing field is level and managed by the community. It's effective: Plone the Foundation can set a goal, execute it, and get a high-quality result. It's motivating: users and small companies around the world can see the value of having a neutral brand, and actually front money to make it happen.
Plone Solutions renamed Jarn
Plone Solutions, started by Alex Limi (Plone co-founder), Geir Baekholt, and Helge Tesdal, is one of the original Plone companies. They have given more to Plone than perhaps any company. If anyone was going to get a perpetual right to use the word Plone in their company name, these guys would probably be the only ones granted such a right.
But instead, they recently chose to remove the word "Plone" from their name and rebrand themselves as Jarn (old Norse for "iron"). From their announcement: "It was time to level the playing field for all companies and organizations involved in the Plone world." Instead, they voluntarily changed their name to support the idea that Plone is owned by the community and bigger than any one company. This gracious step is evidence of both Plone's democracy and Jarn's virtue.
It is rather amazing to see a company put the shared success of the community about their own commercial interests in such a fundamental way.
In 2006 Zea Partners, formerly Zope Europe Association, changed its name for the same reasons: to maintain a clear separation between Zea organization and Zope the community project.
Comparing Plone and other communities cases
The move by Jarn shows that even the founders of Plone are putting their chips on the table of Door Number One, that Plone really is a community agenda. Jarn's move, plus the trademark conclusion, ices the cake, and Janus Boye's article in CMSWatch shows that the market can interpret the tea leaves.
He wrote about Plone Solutions' name change to Jarn: “If you're an Alfresco (the tool) integrator, it kind of sucks to compete against Alfresco (the company)... So I think avoiding having a commercial firm by the same name represents an important measure of a true community-oriented project.”
Those types of open source CMS projects attract a lot of mainstream attention because they are organized the way tech journalists and analysts understand: central control, shareholder-driven cathedrals. Alfresco is just one example. Last year, when Nuxeo switched from Zope to JBoss, they also also switched the product name from "CPS" (with a .org site) to "Nuxeo 5".
There are multiple directions a project/company can take. Each direction has its pros and cons relative to the successful outcome (e.g. exit plan) you want from the effort.
But you can't:
- Pretend you don't have an agenda (exit plan to make shareholders liquid) when you actually do. People will kind of grok it, even if they don't articulate it that way.
- Have both the company and the community. If you really want a community, you have to give them governance, no strings attached. And most companies have exactly the opposite prime directive.