Is Red Hat Acting Like Microsoft?

Some in the open-source community say Red Hat is throwing its weight around and picking on the little guy trying to make a living offering Hibernate training and consulting.

LAS VEGAS—Red Hat is catching flak from the open-source community over a series of cease-and-desist letters the companys lawyers have sent to independent consultants that provide training and consulting for the companys Hibernate platform.

The issue of Red Hat casting its large shadow over the community caused a bit of a ripple among attendees at TheServerSide Java Symposium here, an audience made up of stalwart Java developers and also open-source aficionados.

In a blog post entitled "Red Hat Inc.: The Next Microsoft?," Ted Neward, founder of Neward & Associates, in Redmond, Wash., said, "Think that Red Hat is still the open source capital of the Internet, all happy-happy-joy-joy with its supporters and liberal-minded in its goals?" He then asked readers to look at a copy of the cease-and-desist letter he obtained from a company who received it from Red Hat, and added: "Tell me if your mind isnt changed a little."

The letter, as posted on Newards blog, said: "Red Hat, Inc. has become aware that your company is offering Hibernate training courses. Red Hat does not allow the use of its trademarks without a written agreement."

In addition, the letter spelled out that "Red Hat is the owner of numerous trademarks, including but not limited to, its Hibernate mark, U.S. Federal Registration Number 3135582."

Moreover, the letter said: "Red Hat requests that you immediately cease offering Hibernate branded training, as well as any other training that may contain Red Hat marks or marks that are confusingly similar. Although you may offer object oriented relational database mapping training, you may not use the Hibernate name to promote and advertise your products and services."

Hibernate is an object/relational persistence and query service for Java developed by JBoss. Ironically, JBoss was called out over similar charges in 2005, when some open-source enthusiasts complained that JBoss had taken issue with some companies, particularly in Europe, that had been using the JBoss name to advertise their JBoss training and consulting practices.

During a panel at the conference here, Bob McWhirter, technical leader of the community site, said the issue is to "try to clarify what the use of the trademark is. The big issue thats come up recently is around the trademark. It boils down to trademark law. And, yes, were still an open-source company."

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read an earlier eWEEK interview with McWhirter.

In a brief interview with eWEEK following the session, McWhirter said, "Its all trademark law. Were not an evil company."

However, some attendees said they wondered how far the issue might go.

"Why not just grow the pie," asked one attendee who asked not to be identified. "Maybe they feel like theyve reached ubiquity and can now lean on the little guys."

Another attendee, who also asked not to be identified, agreed, adding: "It seems like theyre only going after the smaller fish, the mom-and-pops that cant afford to fight them in court."

Meanwhile, a source in the JBoss division of Red Hat, said, "We plead complete ignorance on this."

Yet, still another attendee waxed on about the potential of this issue.

"This is another obvious nail in the coffin for the idealized world of open source being about community and being about the code," said the attendee, who asked not to be identified. "Open-source businesses are now as nasty as their closed-source counterparts using the same techniques to stifle competition/protect their brands (depending on your point of view). The question is will the community react with their feet and walk away or is the monopoly factor driven by open sources powerful distribution channels too powerful and the community is now locked in?"

Meanwhile, Neward completed his post with: "Folks, Red Hat has officially moved into the Big Corporate Entity Seeking Profit At Any Expense category. So much for the Open-Source-Can-Really-Make-Money-Too-We-Swear poster child, if you ask me ..."

And in a separate but somewhat related squabble, Maher Masri, CEO of Genuitec, maker of the MyEclipse Java development tool set, took on JBoss in his blog. Masri complained about behavior he witnessed on a forum on, where he said JBoss developers were piling on to take shots at Genuitec. The behavior came following the news at the EclipseCon conference that Red Hat was assuming the stewardship of Exadels Java tools and placing them under the JBoss umbrella. In the forum, JBoss developers identified Genuitec as the company to beat, among other things.

At the end of his post, Masri wrote: "My final conclusion in this long blog is simply this: If your business is based on open source, dont bite the hands that feed your success. And, if you dont want others to use your code then dont put it out as open source to begin with."

Bill Dudney, formerly chief technology officer at Virtuas Open Source Solutions, a Denver-based open-source consultancy that recently closed its doors, wrote in a blog post: "Hibernate is trademarked by JBoss/Red Hat …Which means that me and the thousands of other consultants that put in a bunch of time learning the framework cannot profit by publicly claiming Hibernate services. I can claim OR Mapping [object-relational mapping] services but who (with money) knows what OR Mapping is and why would they pay me for my knowledge about it."

Added Dudney: "By trying to drive MyEclipse out of the Hibernate business they are damaging the Hibernate community. By preventing my (former) company from offering services specifically called Hibernate Services they are damaging the community. Why dont we all pack up and go elsewhere."

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