Don’t call it Rust: Community complains about draft trademark policy restricting use of ‘word marks’

Don’t call it Rust: Community complains about draft trademark policy restricting use of ‘word marks’

Updated: A proposed new trademark policy drafted by the Rust Foundation, which owns the Rust and Cargo trademarks, is going down badly with the wider Rust community, thanks to restrictions including forbidding the use of Rust in the name of a tool for Rust or software written in Rust, or in parts of a domain name or subdomain.

On April 7th the Foundation posted the draft of the new policy and invited comments via a Google form, giving a deadline of April 16th. The use of a Google form means that comments are not publicly visible, but Rust developers have used other channels such as Twitter, Reddit and the Rust forum on Discord to express their concerns.

“I fail to see how the majority of these rules do anything other than place restrictions on normal community activity,” said one developer on Reddit, while on Twitter a comment to the Foundation was “really hope the foundation listens to the community and dumps this shocker of a policy. It will hurt the good will of the community and the growth of the Rust language.”

The Foundation has been working on a revised trademark policy for some time, starting with a Trademark Policy Review Survey in August 2022. A working group completed a draft, and the February 2023 board meeting minutes note [PDF] that: “The board reviewed the current final draft of the trademark policy and considered it broadly acceptable,” though one clause stating that use of the Marks for a software program written in the Rust language was an infringement “seemed unintentionally strict,” and clarification was to be sought from legal counsel.

The draft policy and FAQ has been posted here. Marks are defined as the “Word Marks” Rust, Cargo and Clippy, the Rust logo, and the “unique styling of our website and packaging.” The word Clippy references the Rust linting tool, not to be confused with Microsoft’s Office assistant. Clause 4.3.1 states that “Using the Marks in the name of a tool for use in the Rust toolchain, a software program written in the Rust language, or a software program compatible with Rust software, will most likely require a license. The “RS” abbreviation can be used instead.”

The Reddit commentator mentioned above described clause 4.3.1 as “completely incongruous with reality,” noting that it appears to prohibit library names including “intellij-rust, rust-rocksdb, Steven Fackler’s openssl-rust and rust-postgres, rust-libp2p, Stepan Koltsov’s rust-protobuf, and probably dozens of other serious and well-respected projects.”

Other uses of the Marks considered infringing without specific permission, in the draft, are events and conferences, domain names and subdomains.

Section 7.2.2 on “use of the logos” states that “you may not change any Logo except to scale it. This means you may not add decorative elements, change the colors, change the proportions, distort it, add elements, or combine it with other logos,” though a black and white or grayscale version is permitted.

The existing trademark policy is less restrictive, stating that “the Rust and Cargo word marks can be used with minimal restriction to refer to the Rust programming language and the Cargo package manager and registry,” provided that it does not cause confusion or appear to indicate official endorsement, and acknowledging that “since this rule is about managing perception, it is subjective and somewhat difficult to nail down concretely.”

OpenUK chief Amanda Brock, who is an advisor to the Foundation but commented to DevClass personally and not in any sense on behalf of the Foundation, told us that “The Foundation engaged US attorney Pam Chesteck who is the author of the open source and trademarks chapter in my book and who is generally recognized as the leading light on trade marks to work with them on the draft policy. It’s currently a consultation stage document – I suspect the final document that’s shared will look quite different.”

According to Brock, “The need for this strengthening of the policy is  a lesson for us all across open source  – anyone looking to set up an open source project or business. Trade Marks are very intentionally not covered by open source licensing and in some instances specifically carved out from the licenses. The goal of a mark is to protect the brand of origin and create a de facto ‘certification’ of authenticity through its use. We have seen many instances of failing to adequately protect a trade mark – such as the Open Source Initiative not trade marking the words open source early enough to obtain a mark on it. Much debate would have been avoided if they had.

“So projects and organizations should both register their mark and work to create a policy that allows appropriate community usage. Unfortunately that requires things like color compliance as usage beyond what is registered isn’t possible without jeopardizing the registered mark,” she added.

In response to the torrent of negative response to the new draft, the Foundation said on Twitter that “The Rust Foundation team is monitoring all responses and will provide an update on next steps on Monday, April 17 — 1 day after the form closes.” One wag responded “Just rename the account to Rust Corporation.”

Updated to add:

A representative for the Rust Foundation has been in touch with a statement:

The Rust Foundation cannot yet comment on any changes that will be applied to the next iteration of the Rust Trademark Policy, as the Foundation will not make any policy decisions independently of Rust Project leadership. Additionally, the consultation period is not yet closed, and we want to ensure as many people as possible have the chance to fill out the feedback form. We intend to apply as much relevant and actionable feedback as possible to the next draft. We also plan to share a summary of the responses received through the form after it has closed.  

While the Rust Foundation team is growing, we are still small and have a very limited capacity to respond to individual feedback shared on social media or other forums. Moreover, using a form for feedback collection gives us a level of data organization we would not otherwise have. The Rust Foundation Board of Directors, which includes leaders from within the Rust Project, approved the Rust Trademark Policy draft and consultation process for our staff to bring to the public. This policy is being updated to protect the integrity of the Rust marks to benefit the wider Rust community and more clearly spell out current and existing policies. 

The goal of the Trademark Policy consultation phase is to involve interested members of the public so we can surface actionable comments, questions, and suggestions and apply them to the next draft. To do this effectively, we needed to set up a system to gather feedback from the Rust Project and community in an organized fashion, hence the form. We were disheartened to see misinterpretations of this intention.

If the Rust community takes anything away from this process, we would like them to understand the following in particular: 

  • For the vast majority of Rust community members, the updates proposed in the current Rust Trademark Policy draft will not result in any material changes or limitations on their activities. 
  • The Rust Trademark Policy draft linked in the feedback form is precisely that; a draft. 

The Rust Foundation team encourages anyone with thoughts about the Rust Trademark Policy to submit them via this Google Form through April 16 by 5 PM PDT.