There’s a fairly constant stream of anti-intellectual property ranting that filters through my Twitter feed (and not all of it is from me). The myriad of reasons why intellectual property can be frustrating, unjust and unfair are endless, but this scenario that filtered through this afternoon is worth a mention.

Over in New Zealand an American company has begun an application to take out a trade mark claim over the word ‘Koha’. You see, they are claiming this because they develop an Integrated Library System (ILS) called LibLime Koha. Naturally they might want to protect the value of their logo and associated marks. But the LibLime Koha software is a derivative of another ILS, the increasingly popular open-source ILS called Koha.

Back in 1999 a New Zealand development company created the ILS for the Horowhenua Library Trust, who decided to release the software under a GNU General Public License (GPL). Since its release it has become a popular platform, which has encouraged a number of companies to beging providing commercial support for the ILS. One of these companies was Ohio-based company, Metavore, Inc, who traded as LibLime. Metavore played an active role in the open source development of Kaha for a number of years, added many new features to the package.

But in 2009 a dispute between LibLime and a number of other stakeholders in the open source development community around Koha broke out over LibLime’s (alleged) failure to comply with the GPL by not contributing software patches back to the community. The dispute effectively split the community with some (including the Horowhenua Library Trust) breaking away and continuing from the koha-community.org domain.

In 2010 Metavore, Inc was acquired by PTFS, who are the applicants in the trade mark application in New Zealand. While there is something to be said for open source projects taking out preemptive trade marks, it seems pretty likely this move is designed to put PTFS in a position to restrain koha-community.org and the original Koha software from bearing the term ‘Koha’.

Here’s the Horwhenua Library Trust plea for help from koha-community.org:

Horowhenua Library Trust is the birth place of Koha and the longest serving member of the Koha community. Back in 1999 when we were working on Koha, the idea that 12 years later we would be having to write an email like this never crossed our minds. It is with tremendous sadness that we must write this plea for help to you, the other members of the Koha community.

The situation we find ourselves in, is that after over a year of battling against it, PTFS/Liblime have managed to have their application for a Trademark on Koha in New Zealand accepted. We now have 3 months to object, but to do so involves lawyers and money. We are a small semi rural Library in New Zealand and have no cash spare in our operational budget to afford this, but we do feel it is something we must fight.

For the library that invented Koha to now have to have a legal battle to prevent a US company trademarking the word in NZ seems bizarre, but it is at this point that we find ourselves.

So, we ask you, the users and developers of Koha, from the birth place of Koha, please if you can help in anyway, let us know.

It seems the meaning of the Māori custom of the same name has been lost on LibLime and PTFS. In the native language ‘Koha’ can be translated to mean gift, donation or contribution. The Horowhenua Library Trust ‘gifting’ the Koha software package seems much more appropriate.

If you agree, and you want to help the Horowhenua Library Trust respond, you can donate via PayPal or cheque (payable to the Horowhenua Library Trust) posted to 10 Bath St, Levin, 5510, New Zealand.

♺ Michael J. Parry, ‘The Exemplar Of Stupid: Koha Vs Liblime TrademarkThe Room of Infinite Diligence, 22 November 2011; and Joann Ransom, ‘Plea for help from Horowhenua Library TrustLibrary Matters, 22 November 2011. ♥ via Dan Andrews’ Twitter account (@TheDanAnimal).

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