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Helping Shape the Future of Open Source Policy

Helping Shape the Future of Open Source Policy

September 02, 2008

Michelle Petrone-Fleming is the Contracts Manager and In-House Counsel for Digium (News - Alert), Inc. She is responsible for contract drafting and negotiations in areas such as software licensing, partnerships, resellers, OEM, and distributor relationships. She also handles intellectual property issues for Digium such as trademark registration, trademark enforcement, and trademark policy.

 
Michelle will be speaking at the upcoming AstriCon, which takes place at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa in Glendale, AZ, September 22–25, 2008. I recently had the opportunity to meet Michelle in Digium’s new headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama and we talked a bit about what she was planning to cover in her session entitled Intellectual Property Issues Surrounding the Use of Asterisk (News - Alert) at the upcoming event.
 
 
GG: You are on the schedule to speak at the upcoming Astricon. What topics will you be covering?
MP: I’m focusing on trademark issues arising from the use of Asterisk. It’s an exciting subject when you dig in and see what Asterisk fans are doing that results in trademark policy being shaped in unique ways. I get a lot of questions to the trademarks e-mail address and it’s interesting to see what issues pop up in *real life*. So my talk will include topics such as the following:
 
  1. How to describe your services/products if you are a consultant providing Asterisk related services, sell Digium Products, or products derived from Asterisk;
  2. Domain name usage;
  3. Tag line usage;
  4. Adwords usage;
  5. Logo usage, and a bunch of other interesting real life questions that pop up.
I really enjoy talking with people who send these questions and look forward to speaking to a broader audience about them. I think AstriCon attendees listening will probably hear answers to questions they’ve either had or are likely to encounter if they continue working with Asterisk. Asterisk fans definitely do not ask boring questions and it’s always interesting to get in discussions with them about trademark usage. When dealing with an Asterisk enthusiast, I wind up listening as much as I talk!
 
GG: What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve found in your position as in-house counsel of an open source company?
MP: My greatest challenge is also one of the more enjoyable aspects of my job. I explain to commercial Asterisk users the impact of our open source project on things like patent indemnity, copyright ownership, our contributor license system, and how our dual licensing model works. I also explain to open source Asterisk users how they can use the rights they have under our trademark policy to foster their use of Asterisk, and how our dual licensing and the contributor licensing system works as well. The conversations with both open source and commercial users normally start off with explaining away some misconceptions about those issues and end with me having a fresh perspective on those issues after the discussion.
 
GG: What are some of the more humorous questions you’ve fielded with regard to improper Asterisk branding?
MP: I’ve gotten requests that ask me how to “free ride” on our trademarks and still comply with our trademark policy, requests to cover large objects with our logo (cars, to provide an example), requests to use the Asterisk logo in fictional magazine articles, and requests to alter the Asterisk logo to incorporate thunder, flowers, and hammers into it (just to name a few).
 
GG: Do you sometimes feel there’s a narrow line between protecting Digium’s copyrights and allowing for proliferation of the solutions in a way that does not restrict development?
MP: This is a question near and dear to my heart! I’m assuming this is aimed at forking of Asterisk. With regard to protection of copyright of Asterisk under the GPLv2, I don’t think there’s any tightrope walking there. As long as the ‘forked version’ doesn’t utilize Digium’s trademarks in violation of Digium’s trademark policy and is abiding by the GPLv2, then it’s legal. .If someone can fork Asterisk under the GPLv2 and come up with a new innovative solution that folks want, that’s fantastic — they just can’t rely on our trademarks to market the end result. Of course, we’d like for them to contribute back those changes under the same license, which gave them the ability to come up with that new solution in the first place.
 
GG: What trends have you noticed shaping this industry?
MP: I suppose I could Google (News - Alert) for technological trends that are shaping the telephony industry and quote some of that here, but that wouldn’t be very fair! The truth is that I mainly pay attention to legal trends, specifically ones that impact open source, that we need to take into account when drafting agreements and determining business practices. With regard to IP trends, I’ve noticed an increasing practice of patent licensing and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of the Jacobsen v. Katze case. With regard to other trends, I have noticed more and more of the engineers are into wearing plaid golf shorts. This appears to be an industry wide trend and I first noticed it in the Digium hallways.
 
 

Greg Galitzine is editorial director for TMC’s (News - Alert) IP Communications suite of products, including TMCnet.com. To read more of Greg’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Greg Galitzine

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