MariaDB foundation trademark agreement

We have now published the trademark agreement between the MariaDB Corporation (formerly SkySQL) and the MariaDB Foundation. This agreement guarantees that MariaDB Foundation has the rights needed to protect the MariaDB server project!

With this protection, I mean to ensure that the MariaDB Foundation in turn ensures that anyone can be part of MariaDB development on equal terms (like with any other open source project).

I have received some emails and read some blog posts from people who are confusing trademarks with the rights and possibilities for community developers to be part of an open source project.

The MariaDB foundation was never created to protect the MariaDB trademark. It was created to ensure that what happened to MySQL would never happen to MariaDB: That people from the community could not be part of driving and developing MySQL on equal terms as other companies.

I have personally never seen a conflict with having one company own the trademark of an open source product, as long as anyone can participate in the development of the product! Having a strong driver for an open source project usually ensures that there are more full-time developers working on a project than would otherwise be possible. This makes the product better and makes it useful for more people. In most cases, people are participating in an open source project because they are using it, not because they directly make money on the project.

This is certainly the case with MySQL and MariaDB, but also with other projects. If the MySQL or the MariaDB trademark would have been fully owned by a foundation from a start, I think that neither project would have been as successful as they are! More about this later.

Some examples of open source projects that have the trademark used or owned by a commercial parent company are Wordpress (wordpress.com and Wordpress.org) and Mozilla.

Even when it comes to projects like Linux that are developed by many companies, the trademark is not owned by the Linux Foundation.

There has been some concern that MariaDB Corporation has more developers and Maria captains (people with write access to the MariaDB repositories) on the MariaDB project than anyone else. This means that the MariaDB Corporation has more say about the MariaDB roadmap than anyone else.

This is right and actually how things should be; the biggest contributors to a project are usually the ones that drive the project forward.

This doesn't, however, mean that no one else can join the development of the MariaDB project and be part of driving the road map.

The MariaDB Foundation was created exactly to guarantee this.

It's the MariaDB Foundation that governs the rules of how the project is developed, under what criteria one can become a Maria captain, the rights of the Maria captains, and how conflicts in the project are resolved.

Those rules are not yet fully defined, as we have had very few conflicts when it comes to accepting patches. The work on these rules have been initiated and I hope that we’ll have nice and equal rules in place soon. In all cases the rules will be what you would expect from an open source project. Any company that wants to ensure that MariaDB will continue to be a free project and wants to be part of defining the rules of the project can join the MariaDB Foundation and be part of this process!

Some of the things that I think went wrong with MySQL and would not have happened if we had created a foundation similar to the MariaDB Foundation for MySQL early on:

  • Claims that companies like Google and Ebay can't get their patches into MySQL if they don't pay (this was before MySQL was bought by Sun).
  • Closed source components in MySQL, developed by the company that owns the trademark to MySQL (almost happened to MySQL in Sun and has happened in MySQL Enterprise from Oracle).
  • Not giving community access to the roadmap.
  • Not giving community developers write access to the official repositories of MySQL.
  • Hiding code and critical test cases from the community.
  • No guarantee that a patch will ever be reviewed.

The MariaDB Foundation guarantees that the above things will never happen to MariaDB. In addition, the MariaDB Foundation employs people to perform reviews, provide documentation, and work actively to incorporate external contributions into the MariaDB project.

This doesn't mean that anyone can push anything into MariaDB. Any changes need to follow project guidelines and need to be reviewed and approved by at least one Maria captain. Also no MariaDB captain can object to the inclusion of a given patch except on technical merits. If things can't be resolved among the captains and/or the user community, the MariaDB Foundation has the final word.

I claimed earlier that MariaDB would never have been successful if the trademark had been fully owned by a foundation. The reason I can claim this is that we tried to do it this way and it failed! If we would have continued on this route MariaDB would probably be a dead project today!

To be able to understand this, you will need a little background in MariaDB history. The main points are:

  • Some parts of the MariaDB team and I left Sun in February 2009 to work on the Maria storage engine (now renamed to Aria).
  • Oracle started to acquire Sun in April 2009.
  • Monty Program Ab then hired the rest of the MariaDB engineers and started to focus on MariaDB.
  • I was part of founding SkySQL in July 2010, as a home for MySQL support, consultants, trainers, and sales people.
  • The MariaDB Foundation was announced in November 2012.
  • Monty Program Ab and SkySQL Ab joined forces in April 2013.
  • SkySQL Ab renamed itself to MariaDB Corporation in October 2014

During the 4 years before the MariaDB foundation was formed, I had contacted most of the big companies that had MySQL to thank them for their success and to ask them to be part of MariaDB development. The answers were almost all the same:

"We are very interested in you succeeding, but we can't help you with money or resources until we are using MariaDB ourselves. This is only going to happen when you have proved that MariaDB will take over MySQL."

It didn't help that most of the companies that used to pay for MySQL support had gotten scared of MySQL being sold to Oracle and had purchased 2-4 year support contracts to protect themselves against sudden price increases in MySQL support.

In May 2012, after 4 years and spending close to 4 million Euros of my own money, to make MariaDB possible, I realized that something would have to change.

I contacted some of the big technology companies in Silicon Valley and asked if they would be interested in being part of creating a MariaDB Foundation, where they could play bigger roles. The idea was that all the MariaDB developers from Monty Program Ab, the MariaDB trademark and other resources would move to the foundation. For this to happen, I need guarantees that the foundation would have resources to pay salaries to the MariaDB developers for at least the next 5 years.

In the end two companies showed interest in doing this, but after months of discussions they both said that "now was not yet the right time to do this".

In the end I created the MariaDB Foundation with a smaller role, just to protect the MariaDB server, and got some great companies to support our work:

  • Booking.com
  • SkySQL (2 years!)
  • Parallels (2 years!)
  • Automattic
  • Zenimax

There was also some smaller donations from a variety of companies.

See the whole list at https://mariadb.org/en/supporters.

During this time, SkySQL had become the biggest supporter of MariaDB and also the biggest customer of Monty Program Ab. SkySQL provided front line support for MySQL and MariaDB and Monty Program Ab did the "level 3" support (bug fixes and enhancements for MariaDB).

In the end there were only two ways to go forward to secure the financing of the MariaDB project:

a) Get investors for Monty Program Ab
b) Sell Monty Program Ab.

Note that neither of the above options would have been possible if Monty Program Ab had not owned the MariaDB trademark!

Selling to SkySQL was in the end the right and logical thing to do:

  • They have good investors who are committed to SkySQL and MariaDB.
  • Most of the people in the two companies already know each other as most come from the old MySQL team.
  • The MariaDB trademark was much more known than SkySQL and by owning it would make it much easier for SkySQL to expand their business.
  • As SkySQL was the biggest supporter of the MariaDB project this felt like the right thing to do.

However, to ensure the future of the MariaDB project, SkySQL and Monty Program Ab both agreed that the MariaDB Foundation was critically needed and we had to put a formal trademark agreement in place. Until now there was just a verbal promise for the MariaDB trademarks to the foundation and we had to do this legally right.

This took, because of a lot of reasons too boring to bring up here, much longer time than expected. You can find the trademark agreement publicly available here.

However, now this is finally done and I am happy to say that the future of MariaDB, as an open source project, is protected and there will never again be a reason for me to fork it!

So feel free to join the MariaDB project, either as a developer or community contributor or as a member of the MariaDB Foundation!

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