November 21, 2003 1:50 PM PST

Red Hat, researchers in name tiff

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A team of university researchers says it will oppose Red Hat's attempt to trademark "Fedora," the company's moniker for its new hobbyist Linux line, based on their prior use of the name.

Computer scientists at Cornell University began working in 1997 on a project to build a software tool, mainly for the benefit of librarians, that would blend content from various internal and external sources and present them in a unified form, said Carl Lagoze, a senior researcher in Cornell's information sciences department. The project was named Fedora, an acronym for "flexible extensible digital object repository architecture."


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Cornell began using the name in 1997, Lagoze said, and while it was never trademarked, it has become widely known in the software community. "We're a research project; we never had any active interest in grabbing the name," he said.

Researchers were nevertheless concerned when Red Hat signaled its intention earlier this year to use the Fedora name for the new hobbyist and consumer version of the Linux operating system it introduced this month.

"We didn't say to them, 'You can't use the name,'" Lagoze said. "We had no right to do that. But we certainly didn't encourage it."

Red Hat went ahead with the name and applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for trademark status in September. The proposed trademark would cover the name for use in relation to operating systems and related goods and services.

Red Hat's Fedora Project site already treats the name as a trademark and cites legal guidelines for using the term.

Red Hat representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Lagoze said the proposed trademark would likely restrict the ability of Cornell and the University of Virginia--which joined the Fedora project after its inception--to use the name. He said the universities will formally protest the application once it reaches the review process, based on their prior use of the name.

"We make no request that they stop using the name...although it is a pain in the neck for us that they use it," he said. "Our support people get requests for their Fedora all the time."

The Patent Office lists several other trademark actions relating to "fedora," including a proposed trademark for chemical analysis software.

 

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