I am always torn about the title of “engineer.” When I talk to school kids about engineering, I tell that an engineer is a person who uses science and math to solve or analyze practical problems. However, these days you hear a lot of engineering titles thrown around to anyone who does any sort of technical (and sometimes non-technical) work. “Software engineers” don’t have to be licensed to practice, while civil engineers do. What’s in a name and does any of this matter?
Over the last few months, the internal struggles between the various founders of Arduino have come to a head. This began last November when Arduino SRL (the Italian version of an LLC) sued Arduino LLC for trademark infringement in Massachusetts District court. To assuage the hearts and minds of the maker community, Arduino SRL said they were the real Arduino by virtue of being the first ones to manufacture Arduino boards. A fork of the Arduino IDE by Arduino SRL – simply an update to the version number – was a ploy to further cement their position as the true developers of Arduino.
This is a mess, but not just for two organizations fighting over a trademark. If you’re selling Arduinos in your web store, which Arduino do you side with?
Currently, Arduino SRL is the only source of Arduino Unos. Sparkfun will continue to buy Unos from SRL, but they’re not necessarily siding with Arduino SRL; people demand blue Arduinos with Italy silkscreened on the board, and Sparkfun is more than happy to supply these.
There are, however, questions about the future of Arduino hardware. The Arduino software stack will surely be around in a year, but anyone that will be purchasing thousands of little blue boards over the next year is understandably nervous.
This isn’t the first time Sparkfun has faced a challenge in Arduino supply. In 2012, when the Arduino Uno R3 was released, all the documentation for their very popular Inventor’s Kit was obsoleted overnight. In response to these supply chain problems, Sparkfun created the RedBoard.
Sparkfun has always offered to pay royalties on the RedBoard to Arduino LLC, just as they do with the Arduino Pro and Pro Mini. Effectively, Sparkfun is on the fence, with offers to manufacture the Arduino Zero, Uno, Mega, and Due coming from the LLC.
The reason for this is consumers. If someone wants an Arduino SRL-manufactured board, they’ll buy it. If, however, a customer wants to support Arduino LLC, that option is on the table as well.
It’s not a pretty position to be in, but it does show how someone can support one Arduino over another. In a year or two, there will only be one Arduino, but until then, if you have a preference, at least Sparkfun is giving you a choice.
Credit to Sparkfun for the great Spy vs. Spy image. Why don’t you sell googly eyes?
Arduino SRL (formerly known as Smart Projects SRL) sent out a letter to its distribution partners yesterday. If you’ve been following along with the Arduino vs Arduino story (we’ve previously published two installments), the content isn’t entirely surprising; it’s essentially a tactical move to reassure their distribution channels that Arduino SRL is the “One True Arduino”. That said, there’s still some new tidbits buried inside. You can skip down to read the full text below, but here’s our take.
The Business History of Arduino
A quick summary of the legal situation. Arduino LLC was formed in April 2008 by the original five founders to provide a corporate entity behind the Arduino project. Smart Projects SRL, controlled by one of the founders, was tasked with the actual production of the boards. It turns out that Smart Projects had trademarked the Arduino brand in Italy in December 2008, before Arduino LLC got around to filing in April 2009 in the USA. But everyone was friends, right? As long as the licensing fees keep flowing.
Fast-forward to September 2014, when Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in Italy against Smart Projects claiming that they had infringed LLC’s trademark and that they had recently stopped paying licensing fees on their use of the Arduino name. In October, Smart Projects filed with the USPTO to revoke Arduino LLC’s trademark. In late 2014, Smart Projects changed its company name to Arduino SRL (a “Società a responsabilità limitata” is one form of Italian limited-liability company) and hired a new CEO, [Federico Musto]. Around the same time, Arduino SRL opened up the website arduino.org (different from long-existing arduino.cc) but with nearly identical style. In January 2015, Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in the US, claiming their right on the Arduino name.
The Gist of it
In short, Arduino LLC has been working on developing the Arduino platform, software, and community while Smart Projects / Arduino SRL was the major official producer of the hardware for most boards. Both are claiming to “be” Arduino, and going after each other in court. So it’s not strange that Arduino SRL would like to try to keep its hold on the distribution channels. Which brings us to their letter to distributors.
March 27 Letter
A good portion of the letter reads to be a very carefully worded defense of why Arduino SRL is the true Arduino:
“Arduino Srl (aka Smart Projects Srl), as you know has been from the beginning of the Arduino® project, the place where the ideas were turned into reality and into a business.”
This is of course strictly true — Smart Projects was certainly the largest manufacturer of Arduino boards. But it sidesteps the issue at hand in the trademark suits: whether they were simply a licensed producer of the boards or whether they’re “Arduino”.
Similarly, in the questions section of the letter, they ask if there are actually two “Arduino” product manufacturers, and answer “not really”. Of course, that’s true. Arduino LLC doesn’t manufacture boards, but exists to license their trademark out to fund development.
The only real news in the letter is that Arduino SRL is replacing its old distribution and logistics company, Magyc Now, with a new one named CC Logistics. Both Magyc and CC Logistics are named as defendants in the US lawsuit filed by Arduino LLC, so it’s unlikely that this change is due to legal fallout.
What this Means
In conclusion, Arduino SRL’s letter to its distributors seems to essentially follow the line of reasoning in their trademark lawsuit in the US against Arduino LLC: since Arduino SRL is doing the manufacturing and using the Arduino name, they’re the true Arduino. Whether or not this will stand up in court, or whether Arduino LLC can make its case that SRL was simply a licensed manufacturer, remains to be seen.
We’ve embedded the contents of the letter after the break. You can also download the original PDF.
Arduino LLC is suing Arduino Srl (the Italian version of an LLC). Sounds confusing? It gets juicier. What follows is a summary of the situation as we learned it from this article at MakeMagazin.de (google translatrix)
Arduino LLC is the company founded by [Massimo Banzi], [David Cuartielles], [David Mellis], [Tom Igoe] and [Gianluca Martino] in 2009 and is the owner of the Arduino trademark and gave us the designs, software, and community support that’s gotten the Arduino where it is. The boards were manufactured by a spinoff company, Smart Projects Srl, founded by the same [Gianluca Martino]. So far, so good.
Things got ugly in November when [Martino] and new CEO [Federico Musto] renamed Smart Projects to Arduino Srl and registered arduino.org (which is arguably a better domain name than the old arduino.cc). Whether or not this is a trademark infringement is waiting to be heard in the Massachussetts District Court.
According to this Italian Wired article, the cause of the split is that [Banzi] and the other three wanted to internationalize the brand and license production to other firms freely, while [Martino] and [Musto] at the company formerly known as Smart Projects want to list on the stock market and keep all production strictly in the Italian factory.
Naturally, a lot of the original Arduino’s Open Source Hardware credentials and ethos are hanging in the balance, not to mention its supply chain and dealer relationships. However the trademark suit comes out, we’re guessing it’s only going to be the first in a series of struggles. Get ready for the Arduino wars.
We’re not sure if this schism is at all related to the not-quite-open-source hardware design of the Yun, but it’s surely the case that the company is / the companies are going through some growing pains right now.
Thanks [Philip Steffan] for the pointer to the MakeMagazin.DE article. (And for writing it.)
[nico] pointed out something that didn’t seem to get any air-time during the recent netbook kerfuffle. Part of the original TechCrunch complaint was that netbooks are underpowered. This is a direct result of Microsoft’s Ultra Low Cost PC (ULCPC) licensing program. If manufacturer’s don’t stick to Microsoft’s restrictions, they can’t purchase XP at a discount ($26-32), which is the only way to get XP since they no longer sell it. These rules are why you can’t buy a netbook with more that 1GB of RAM.