Library trademark battle heats up

Horowhenua Library Trust files notice opposing US company's claim to the trademark 'Koha'

A battle between a US company and local developers and trustees of a popular open-source library system entered another phase with a formal submission opposing the American company PTFS/LibLime’s claim to the trademark “Koha”.

The Koha library cataloguing and management system was developed by a community of New Zealand open-source developers, centred on the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT).

The PTFS claim was provisionally agreed to last year by the Intellectual Property Organisation of New Zealand (IPONZ). PTFS subsequently said it would transfer the trademark rights to a New Zealand open-source community, and undertake not to enforce it against anyone offering Koha-related services in New Zealand. HLT sent a letter to PTFS undertaking to be the receiver of the rights, with, it claims, the support of the local Koha community, but it received what HLT and its lawyer, Andrew Matangi at Buddle Findlay, call “an unsatisfactory response”.

PTFS apparently wants to vest the trademark rights in another entity and HLT fears that while having a nominal local base, this will be a company set up and effectively run by PTFS/LibLime. “We’re not sure who they want to transfer the rights to, they’re inviting proposals,” says Matangi. “We say the user community has already voted [in support of HLT].”

Accordingly the Trust has now formally filed a notice of opposition before IPONZ to the transfer of the trademark, which still only has provisional status.

PTFS/Liblime now has two months to lodge a response; then if there is still disagreement there will be a process of resolution, Matangi says.

Computerworld has not yet found a spokesperson for PTFS/Liblime to give its side of the story.

Koha has thousands of users worldwide; there are more than 1500 formally registered, says Chris Cormack of Catalyst IT, a key member of the Koha community, but it’s not necessary to register to use the product. There have been three million downloads of the free software, he says; “not that I’m suggesting anything like three million libraries are using it.”

However, Koha is somewhat less widely used on its own turf. In New Zealand there are five public libraries using it, Cormack says, and about 15 special libraries, including those of the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the Opus civil engineering company formed from the old Ministry of Works.

The reason for the difference is hard to pin down. Formal RFP processes in the New Zealand public sector make the market harder to crack, Cormack suggests, and “cultural cringe”, related to both New Zealand and open source, may be a factor; “there’s probably a feeling in some quarters that if it’s Kiwi it can’t be much good and if it’s free it can’t be much good.”

Meanwhile, a rival product named Kotui, developed under a contract for the National Library and originally called LSyncNZ, is boasting its first users. Marlborough District Libraries went live in October last year and Nelson City and Tasman libraries in November.

Another 12 libraries are in line to adopt Kotui, says the National Library announcement. Kotui requires user libraries to become members of a consortium and databases are held centrally.

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