The Python trademark in Europe

Last Thursday, the Python Software Foundation announced that a UK-based company had applied for the exclusive European-wide trademark on the word Python as applied to software, web hosting, computer services, and so on.

Obviously we’re a little concerned about this, and we recommend that anyone else who’s using Python in a business in the EU should go to the PSF post linked above and see if there’s anything they can do to help.

The company who’s applied for the trademark (whose name is surprisingly hard to track down, but we’ll call them POBox Hosting) provide a fairly standard kind of VPS solution, which they call “Python cloud servers”. These servers may or may not contain Python-the-language as part of their setup, but it’s also fairly obvious that support for Python-the-language is not a major selling point for them, and isn’t the reason for their use of the name “Python”. Instead, it looks like they chose that name because from time to time they’d used it for various other products in the past. They’ve owned the domain for at least the last ten years.

There are two ways in which their trademark is problematic.

Firstly, it is likely to confuse people – it’s easy to imagine someone hearing about Python the language, getting a “Python cloud server”, and then wondering where all this great stuff they’ve heard about is. This could be a huge problem for the Python community as a whole – if lots of people are using your trademark for reasons unrelated to the mark, then it is weakened and comes to mean almost nothing. The PSF have rules about how the Python trademark can be used, and they have to enforce them to make sure that “Python” in a computer software context continues to have a specific meaning. (As an aside, we use “Python” in our company name and elsewhere by agreement of the PSF; they’re fine with it because (a) we asked and (b) it is “a permitted nominative use unlikely to cause confusion”.)

Secondly, and much more immediately worryingly for us at PythonAnywhere – and for any other EU-based business based around Python – is the exclusivity of the trademark. Imagine if we had to describe what we did without using the word “Python”? “SomethingAnywhere is a development and hosting environment for a programming language that we can’t name, that displays in your web browser and runs on our servers.” Changing the company’s name would be the least of our problems.

So, we strongly agree with the PSF’s opposition to this trademark application. In the world of computing, “Python” invariably means Python-the-language. Any other use is confusing, and exclusive trademark on it to mean anything else would be extremely harmful to the Python community.

Just for anyone who’s interested in a little more detail, here’s the letter we sent the PSF expressing our support, which hopefully will be of use to them in their opposition to the trademark.

To whom it may concern,

We are writing to oppose the application by POBox Hosting for a trademark for the use of the word “Python” as it relates to computer software, servers and web hosting, CTM application number 010848208. In the computing world, the word “Python” is overwhelmingly used to refer to the Python programming language, and any other interpretation is hard to credit in that context.

We are PythonAnywhere LLP, a company based in the United Kingdom, offering computer software, servers and web hosting services worldwide to programmers who use the Python programming language. We use the word “Python” in our company name and when describing our products under license from the Python Software Foundation. A service that provides a “Python” service that is not specifically designed to incorporate the Python programming language harms our business by causing confusion amongst customers. An exclusive mark that prevented us from using the word “Python” to describe our business would essentially make us and other similar companies unable to operate in the EU.

Some background: the PythonAnywhere service was created by a company called Resolver Systems Ltd, which was founded in 2005, and it was acquired by PythonAnywhere LLP in a corporate restructure in late 2012 (the people are still the same). Members of the team behind Resolver Systems and PythonAnywhere first heard of the Python programming language in 1997, and have used it professionally in the European Union since that time.

When we founded Resolver Systems, our aim was to create a new, highly programmable spreadsheet. The Python programming language was the obvious choice for this, and when we released our first product, Resolver One, in 2007, we marketed it as “the Pythonic spreadsheet”. It has been downloaded by approximately 50,000 people worldwide, and approximately 40% of sales were in the EU.

PythonAnywhere, which we announced in March 2011, is a website where programmers who use the Python programming language can easily work on programming projects and host websites without needing to leave their web browser or install software. The customer signs up, clicks a button, and starts typing Python programs in their browser. All server management, maintenance and, for web developers, scalability, is handled by the system. This is extremely useful for Python developers, trainers and educators (we are used by a number of university courses), and for people developing and hosting their own Internet services and websites.

Since PythonAnywhere’s launch, it has been visited by over 174,000 people worldwide, approximately 35% of whom are in the European Union. Around 15,000 of the people who have visited the site have registered to use it – again, about 35% of these are from the European Union.

We believe that when people look for “Python web hosting” or similar terms, they are looking for services like ours and like those of our competitors – that is, they are looking for a service that specialises in providing web hosting (or software, or servers) for people who use the Python programming language. On that basis we believe that POBox Hosting’s “Python” product is confusing to consumers of Web hosting and software, and any trademark they gained over the term would damage the Web hosting sector in the EU as a whole.

It is worth noting that the Wikipedia page for the word “Python”, in English, French, German and Dutch, offers the Python programming language as one of the top possible meanings, but does not refer to POBox Hosting or their products. The Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese pages for the word Python are all specifically about the Python programming language. In the minds of Wikipedia’s editors (which, the site being editable by anyone, is a good approximation to the minds of each language’s speakers) Python in the context of computers clearly refers to the Python programming language. The customers for Web/Internet hosting and related services are computer specialists, and will therefore be confused by a trademark that does not relate to this language.

Furthermore, if web hosting and related companies that provide services that help developers who use the Python programming language specifically are prevented from using the word “Python” to describe their services by the applied-for trademark, they will be unable to operate.

A situation where a company who use Python in a sense different to the computing world at large have the exclusive right to use Python in the EU is clearly untenable.

comments powered by Disqus