Why I’m On the Board of the Open Usage Commons

SADA Says | Cloud Computing Blog

By Miles Ward | SADA CTO

So, not to bury the lede: I’m a Board Member for a new organization called the Open Usage Commons. The organization was created to protect and manage open source trademarks and more. It’ll kick off with three projects from Google: Angular, Gerrit, and Istio. Since open source software has provided me and the companies I’ve worked for with so much value, I thought this was a fitting and practical way that I could pay some of that back while learning from and working with some folks I really like.  

Why Trademarks? Story Time!

While on a vacation in Mexico, I rented this tiny car to tear around in, and I noticed that there was another office for the same rental car company that was much closer to my hotel. I thought, “Hey, that’s convenient.” When discussing my exit itinerary with one of the helpful folks at the hotel, which included dropping the car off at the closer rental office, she warned, “Oh no no, those companies look the same, but they’re not the same.” The closer shop wasn’t really the same company, even though they had identical signage and employees in shirts that looked the same. Tan loco!

Without legal protection of an OSS project’s trademark, there’s a risk that a company could misuse the brand and confuse users, or violate the license requirements of the software. Also, if you built a business on a piece of OSS where the trademark wasn’t protected, a different company could snag it, and then use it to pressure you or force you to stop using that mark. The law here is super complex, and simple mistakes could have big consequences. No bueno! 

Plus, in open source, shouldn’t the project follow the spirit of the Open Source Definition? I sure think so

More Than One Kind of OSS

When I started at AWS, some of my first work was connecting with engineers at OSS projects, and I couldn’t help but notice huge differences in the resources and business models they used. I remember taking a meeting with Jared Rosoff at MongoDB about the terrors of EBS for what became the first version of MongoDB Best Practices for AWS, followed immediately by an esoteric EC2 virtualization conversation with Colin Perceval who was working on getting FreeBSD on AWS working. Wow are the two groups those folks represent different! Both valid, both viable, but really different. 

When I started at Google, their approach to interacting with and supporting OSS was radically different than AWS. Like, all the bits my little team needed to start releasing example and enablement code as OSS were *right there* in the launch approval tool, no fuss, by default. What a relief! So many of the incredible systems I’d used, super-power tools like Hadoop, Cassandra, Linux Cgroups and Kubernetes, Tensorflow, had their origins in whitepapers, code, or both from Google. 

OSS isn’t just one way of doing things, or one business model, or one contract; it’s an ecosystem, and that diversity is a strength, not a weakness (which is true in many contexts!). 

Enter, Stage Left: Chris DiBona and His Superior Beard Game

So, now it’s a few years later, and my friend Chris reaches out about adding to that diversity and creating a new way to provide specialized help for the folks working hard to handle the absurd array of tasks an OSS maintainer seems suddenly responsible for. Wasn’t this all just about cranking out some sweet code? Now it’s docs, roadmap, license terms, community engagement… a whole bunch of stuff not in the IDE. It’s one thing to do these things, but the bar keeps getting higher; now, to excel, a project and it’s maintainers have to be *incredible* at those things. 

Open Usage Commons will be focused on some of those nuanced areas, starting with trademarks, where deep specialization helps a lot. We want to help projects be incredible at least in that aspect. I know some weird parts of this, and have seen firsthand how the lack of confidence caused by unclear trademark status erodes user, developer, and customer trust. I see the clear value that we can create and that we can give back to this ecosystem. 

This mission is important to SADA and our customers as well: I cannot think of a single project we’ve done in the last year that doesn’t involve some piece of OSS, either in the actual implementation or the tooling supporting it. By helping OSS projects do well, we hope to help all SADA customers gain even more value by participating in the OSS ecosystem. 

This is just the start, and as you know, the beginning is a very delicate time. I have a huge reading list because I have lots to learn (feel free to send your suggestions!); this is all pretty wild stuff for an infrastructure dweeb. I promise to do my best at my part, while remaining eager for your feedback and questions, and looking forward to what’s next.  

Does This Pique Your Interest?

SADA’s engineers and I are helping customers implement and manage OSS-based systems every day. Maybe you need some of our help. If so, let’s talk. Or maybe you’d like to join our rapidly growing team and find your own way to give back, if so, let’s chat. Maybe you are working on an OSS project that has uncertain trademark protection, if so, let’s yak!


-Miles Ward, CTO


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