Arduino Trademark Dispute

Arduino is a well-known project promoting open hardware for devices designed to interact with their physical environment (such as robotics or motion sensors).  Recently, a dispute about the Arduino trademark has erupted between Arduino LLC and Arduino SRL.  

Arduino LLC, a US entity, was incorporated in 2008 by a group of founders and promulgated open software and hardware designs.   Hardware devices based on these designs were manufactured by Smart Projects SRL, an Italian entity formed by one of the founders.  

Arduino LLC runs a certification program for third-party manufacturers that want to use the “Arduino” brand. Arduino LLC filed a US trademark application in April 2009, and a registration issued in 2011.

Smart Projects filed a petition with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in October 2014 asking the USPTO to cancel Arduino LLC’s trademark on “Arduino.” Smart Projects has now changed its company’s name to Arduino SRL. Arduino LLC then filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against Arduino SRL.  

The case is ongoing.

Those who are interested in the intersection of trademarks and open source know that these kinds of claims are bound to become more common over time.  Open source (and open hardware) projects tend not to manage their brands thoughtfully, as would a commercial enterprise — their attention to branding and business name management is often informal and ad hoc.  Trademark is the one kind of IP that needs to be managed proactively — playing catch-up with filings and strategy can cause misunderstandings and disputes. The informal approach works fine, until two factions decide they want to control what is the “official” version or activities of a project.  Then the trademark claims crop up, as the competing claimants use trademark law to force the issue.  There is a natural tension between trademark law — which encourages the association of a brand with a single source, and open source software and hardware — which is a collaborative effort directed, sometimes simultaneously along competing paths, by a community.

[If you want to read more details, there is a good article dated March 25, 2015 on LWN by Nathan Willis, but it may not be accessible without a (free trial) subscription.]