Node.js creator Ryan Dahl urges Oracle to release JavaScript trademark

Node.js creator Ryan Dahl urges Oracle to release JavaScript trademark

The creator of Node.js and Deno, Ryan Dahl, has penned an open letter to Oracle imploring the company to release the JavaScript trademark into the public domain.

“The trademark is a dark cloud looming over the world’s most popular programming language,” he wrote. “Careful law abiding engineers bend over backwards to avoid its use – leading to confusing terms like ECMAScript.”

Dahl links to the original 1995 Netscape Communications press release announcing JavaScript. Irrespective of the trademark, the name of the language has long confused people who imagine that it is a variant of Java. At the time, Netscape said JavaScript was “complementary to and integrated with Java,” the idea being that it could interact with Java applets on web pages. That integration was superficial though, and JavaScript has little in common with the Java language other than that both are ”curly brace” languages.

JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich said last month that “the name is a total lie. It is not so much related to Java so much as to a common ancestor, C, in syntax.”

Trademarks protect products from being copied by competitors and passed off as the real thing. When Microsoft came up with a JavaScript implementation for Internet Explorer, it called the language JScript and later did a .NET version. Netscape worked with other companies including Microsoft on standardizing the language, using the Ecma International standards body, and ECMAScript was chosen as a neutral name, though Eich has said that “ECMAScript was always an unwanted trade name that sounds like a skin disease.”

Oracle received the JavaScript trademark when it acquired Sun in 2010. In principle that means that only Oracle can allow a language to be called JavaScript, but Dahl states that “it seems very likely that JavaScript trademark infringement would be unenforceable in court due to non-use.”  

Dahl claimed that Oracle “does not have any products using the trademark” though as a Hacker News comment observes, the company does offer GraalVM which includes a JavaScript implementation. That said, Oracle does not mention JavaScript specifically in its trademark guidelines, though it does mention Java and MySQL. The guidelines state that “proper use of Oracle trademarks reinforces their role as brands for our products and services, and helps prevent them from becoming generic names that can be used by anyone.”

We have asked Oracle for its view on Dahl’s request.