If others have found your project and are using it as part of their own products or internal operations you may be approached about providing support or additional features, or a company may want to contribute resources. You yourself may start to see your project as more of a product with monetary potential at this point. Either way, it’s time to get serious.
Legal Entities and Software Foundations
Once others start heavily relying on your work it is probably time for a formal legal entity for your project. Alternatively, there are several umbrella organizations for FOSS projects like the Linux Foundation, the Apache Foundation or The Software Freedom Conservancy that can provide a more formalized administrative structure for your project. They may even take over ownership and registration of the trademark for your project’s benefit.
Whether you join an existing umbrella organization or start a new legal entity for your project, once commercialization is in the picture it is time to complete legal clearance and registration for your trademark if you have not already done so.
You may have business partners or investors that demand registration, so they will have assurances they won’t infringe anyone else’s rights as you extend the geographic footprint of the project.
You should determine what enforcement strategy you will take around your trademark, and post a Trademark Policy, the purpose of which is to explain to your users and the community how they may use the trademarks.
You can find great guidance on modeltrademarkguidelines.org, which also provides a list of the trademark policies of several free and open source projects.
Browsing through those will show you the key aspects you want to include in your own Trademark Policy. When you write your policy, always remember most people reading your policy won’t be trademark experts. So keep the language simple, and use lots of practical examples. This is what we are trying to do in this guide, too, and we hope it works for you. If not, please tell us what we can improve.
Interacting with Others Around Your Software
You may enter into business relationships for hosting your software for others or sponsoring conferences, or that provide training for the software. You also may have companies that want to provide professional services relating to your software, like installation, support and customization.
Since such relationships can reflect the ‘brand’ that your trademark represents, all such uses should be licensed, i.e., permitted under a written agreement that sufficiently protects your trademark. Generally these agreements also cover elements such as the deliverables, standards for the partner’s performance, payment terms, and termination rights. Because of the complexity of these relationships, it’s highly recommended to seek professional legal advice before entering into them.