The below questions and answers are not RStudio’s trademark policy, which you can find here https://www.rstudio.com/about/trademark/. Nor is it legal advice – you should check with your lawyer for that. This is just some information we hope will help you understand what trademark rights are and how they are different from other rights, like copyrights.
What is a trademark?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office says that a trademark is “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
This is a pretty good definition, of course, but maybe a bit hard to follow. A trademark is like a calling card for a business and its products or services. Every time you procure something with the same trademark, you should be able to rely on the fact that the products or services you are getting are coming from or approved by the same source. You might not even know exactly what the source is, but trademarks help you trust that when you go back for more, you know what you are going to get. And if for some reason you are disappointed, you know whom to contact.
Can anyone “trademark” anything they want?
Not really, no. In the United States you have to use a trademark, meaning offering products or services in connection with the trademark, in order to have any trademark rights. If you do use a trademark, and if no one else began using the same or a similar trademark before you, then you may be able to get a trademark registration from the Patent and Trademark Office.
Does RStudio have trademark registrations?
Yes. RStudio owns several trademark registrations, which prove that RStudio owns the registered trademarks and has the exclusive right to use them. RStudio, Shiny and the RStudio logo are all registered trademarks of RStudio.
RStudio’s software is open source, so doesn’t that mean that anyone can use your trademarks?
It may seem counterintuitive, but no. The fact that RStudio offers free, open source software in connection with the GNU Affero General Public License version 3 (AGPL v.3) means that anyone who complies with the terms of AGPL v.3 has the right to use or further develop RStudio’s software code without infringing on RStudio’s copyright. Copyright law protects the specific expression of an idea, like a novel, a song, or software. Copyrights are different than trademarks, which distinguish one source of goods or services from all others. So the fact that RStudio software is open source only has to do with copyright and not trademark rights. In fact, Section 7(e) of the AGPL v.3 specifically states that software providers can decline to grant rights to use trademarks associated with software offered under the AGPL v.3. RStudio does not allow third parties to use its trademarks without permission.
I am only using the software the way that RStudio provides it, so how can this be a trademark violation?
RStudio provides its software branded with its own trademarks for you to use. As long as you are simply using RStudio’s software for personal use, as provided by RStudio, that is fine. But if you use RStudio software in connection with RStudio trademarks in other ways, then you might not be able to do so without violating RStudio’s trademark rights.
Why does it matter if I use RStudio’s trademark without permission?
If you use RStudio’s trademarks on goods or services without permission, consumers will be confused and think that RStudio is providing those goods and services, or that RStudio approves of or is somehow affiliated with those goods or service. This is not fair, and may also be illegal. RStudio has a reputation that is closely connected to its trademarks, and when others use those trademarks without permission, it can damage RStudio’s reputation. It may be that these other products or services are inferior to those offered by RStudio, or are offered in connection with other products or services that are inferior. Even if the other products or services are of high quality, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that RStudio has the right to decide how its trademarks are used and consumers have a right to rely on RStudio’s trademarks as a source identifier.
What are the things that I can’t do with RStudio’s trademarks?
Although this is not meant to be a full and exhaustive list, here are some things that you can’t do with RStudio trademarks unless you have permission:
- Combine RStudio trademarks with your own trademarks
- Redistribute RStudio software on physical media or directly from a website that is not RStudio’s while featuring RStudio trademarks
- Bundle and redistribute RStudio software with other software while using RStudio trademarks
- Offer RStudio software in connection with RStudio trademarks on a password protected website
- Deploy RStudio software featuring RStudio trademarks within a frame that features your own trademarks
- Incorporate an RStudio trademark into a domain name
Ultimately, you need permission to use RStudio’s trademarks if it would be possible for consumers to conclude that RStudio, Inc. is somehow associated with that use.
What about “fair use” of trademarks?
It is true that a trademark owner cannot prevent all use of its trademarks by others. Sometimes it is necessary to use another company’s trademark to simply refer to the company or its products and services. This is like using someone’s name to identify them. It is also okay to use another company’s trademark to honestly compare their products to yours in advertising. These kinds of uses are considered “fair use” and are generally permitted. However, there are limits. Fair use only permits you to use the least amount of a trademark necessary to make the identification. So, if it’s true, you might be able run an ad that says “MySoftware is more entertaining than RStudio because MySoftware plays music!” But you should not use an RStudio logo in the ad, because you don’t need to use the logo to identify RStudio software.
Also, use of another’s trademark is not “fair” if it suggests a relationship between the other trademark owner and yourself. For example, it may be possible to refer to RStudio software on your own website and provide a link that fully resolves to RStudio’s website. So long as there are no indications that there is some form of relationship between you and RStudio, this might be considered a “fair use.” But if you were to host the RStudio software on your own site while using RStudio’s trademarks, this would suggest that RStudio sponsors or is somehow affiliated with you and your site, and such use of RStudio trademarks is not permitted without RStudio’s authorization.
Okay – but I’d like permission to use an RStudio trademark, what should I do?
To request permission to use a trademark, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Should RStudio grant the requested permission, such permission may be in the form of a written license, which may include a license fee or fees, the details of which will be dependent on the specific request.