A SOFTWARE FREEDOM Trademark Timeline

There’s a trademark battle over the SOFTWARE FREEDOM name going on right now – and it’s not actually about the FSF.  Here’s a brief timeline of interesting facts of the case and how the two organizations are related, along with some community reactions. Reminder: this is about the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC, petitioner to cancel) and the Software Freedom Conservancy (Conservancy, the registrant of the SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY mark in question).

UPDATE: Includes recent community blogs; see my legal-ish analysis of the case, and my community take (which quite frankly is far more important here), and now including some TTAB dates.

Timeline of Organizational & Conflict Dates

  • Early 2005 – Software Freedom Law Center was incorporated as a non-profit, with Eben Moglen (a director), Bradley M. Kuhn, and Karen Sandler all involved (among others as well).
  • 9-February-2005 – US Trademark First Use Date: SOFTWARE FREEDOM LAW CENTER (Source)
  • 17-September-2005 – US Trademark First Use Date: SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY (Source)
  • 3-April-2006 – SFLC Announces incorporation of Software Freedom Conservancy as an independent non-profit, with Eben Moglen, Karen Sandler, and Daniel Ravicher as Directors (Source, Source)
  • 7-April-2006 – Conservancy Incorporated in NY (Source)
  • 11-July-2007 – Conservancy’s NY Charitable Annual Filing (Source)
  • 15-October-2009 – Conservancy’s IRS 990 FY 2007 (Source)
  • 17-June-2010 – US Registration Application made: SOFTWARE FREEDOM LAW CENTER (Source)
  • 4-October-2010 – Bradley M. Kuhn appointed Executive Director of Conservancy (paid full time) (Source)
  • 1-February-2011 – US Registration Issued: SOFTWARE FREEDOM LAW CENTER (Disclaimed: SOFTWARE and LAW CENTER) (Source) (Class 45)
  • July-2011 – SFLC ceases to serve as legal counsel for Conservancy (Source)
  • 29-November-2011 – US Registration Application Filed: SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY (Source)
  • 25-September-2012 – US Registration Issued: SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY (Disclaimed: SOFTWARE) (Source) (Classes 35, 9)
  • Fiscal Year 2015 – Conservancy’s IRS 990 tax filing for FY 2015; Total Revenue USD1.9m; 73.3% public support (Source)
  • Fiscal Year 2015 – SFLC’s IRS 990 tax filing for FY 2015; Total Revenue USD1.4m; 21.9% public support (Source)
  • 30-September-2015 – The Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement jointly published by Conservancy and FSF (Source)
  • 11-June-2017 – EU Registration Issued: SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY (Source)
  • 21-September-2017 – A New Era for Free Software Non-Profits published, announcing corporate services for FOSS projects, by SFLC (Source)
  • 22-September-2017 – Petition For Cancellation of SOFTWARE FREEDOM CONSERVANCY mark filed by SFLC (Source)
  • 2-November-2017 – Response to Petition to Cancel filed by Conservancy (Source)

    Timeline of Responses And Community Blogs

  • 3-November-2017 - SFLC Files Bizarre Legal Action Against Its Former Client, Software Freedom Conservancy published by Conservancy (Source)
  • 6-November-2017 – Concerning a Statement by the Conservancy published by SFLC (Source)
  • 8-November-2017 – Karl Fogel blogs What You Need to Know About the Conservancy / SFLC Dustup (Source)
  • 8-November-2017 – Neil McGovern blogs Software Freedom Law Center And Conservancy (Source)
  • 13-November–2017 – Matthew Garrett blogs Eben Moglen is no longer a friend of the free software community (Source)
  • 13-November-2017 – Brian Lunduke video blogs Software Freedom Law Center vs. Software Freedom Conservancy (Source)

What does this all mean?  We don’t know yet.  But it’s obvious that the principals at both organizations have worked together for years in various capacities (the SFLC used to provide legal services to Conservancy!), so it’s astonishing that there weren’t any private discussions about the matter before the USPTO Petition For Cancellation was filed.

The Petition for Cancellation and the Response are both worth a read, if only for the bizarreness of details in the claims.

Timeline of Legal Filing TTAB Dates

Reading into the USPTO documents about the case, we can see some of the potential deadlines the TTAB has set for actions in the trial – obviously, if the parties negotiate or both agree to change the dates, they might move. S

  • 7-December-2017 – Deadline for Discovery Conference; Discovery period opens.
  • 6-January-2018 – Initial Disclosures Due
  • 6-May-2018 – Expert Disclosures Due
  • 5-June-2018 – Discovery period ends

There are a bunch more dates in the TTAB records (ending in April 2019 – they take a long time!) but I’m really hoping this case doesn’t get that far.


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Briefly, Shane is: a father and husband, a friend, a geek, a Member and director of the ASF, a baker, an ex-Loti, a BMW driver, a punny guy, a gamer, and lifelong resident within the 495 belt. Oh, and we have cats.

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