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Adobe's legal attack dogs savage open source KIllustrator

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Adobe's carefully cultivated 'nice guy' image has been found lacking in Germany. This is thanks to its law firm which is charging people on Adobe's behalf for the privilege of getting a stiff legal letter, writes Paul Nesbitt.

Adobe is demanding that a German professor and part time open source programmer stop using the name KIllustrator as the brand for his Linux-based drawing program.

KIllustrator was written by Dr Kai-Uwe Sattler, as part of a project at the University of Magdeburg, which employs him. As its name suggests, KIllustrator is similar to Adobe's famous Illustrator program, but it has been developed as part of K Office, an Office-like suite of programs for KDE user interface running over Linux.

Adobe does not currently offer a version of Illustrator, or indeed any of its products, to run on Linux.

Late last month Reinhard Skuhra Weise and Partner, a German patent law firm working for Abobe sent the University of Magdeburg, a letter demanding that KIllustrator's name be changed. The letter claimed that KIllustrator's branding damaged the reputation of Adobe's similarly named product.

However the lawyers' approach was heavy handed: according to Sattler the letter also demanded that the University withdraw KIllustrator, provide a list of everyone who acquired a copy, and produce details of any money made from the product. This is an open-source free of charge program, remember.

Worse still the lawyers demanded that the University pay $2000 to cover their costs. That's right, the lawyers, supposedly hired by Adobe, were demanding that the person receiving their cease and desist letter, pay for the privilege.

Sattler told them that he would change the product's name to avoid any confusion with Adobe's Illustrator, but did not want to pay someone else's legal bills. Nor would he abandon the (renamed) KIllustrator program. Sattler said he was surprised that Adobe had not tried to contact him before sending such a hostile legal letter.

However the German lawyers rejected Sattler's initial suggestion that he simply change his product's name and in a rather pouting letter, asked him: "Do you know any lawyer who works for nothing?" Just to hurry things on in the all important "lawyers must get paid" department they added the threat of a $400,000 (1 million DM) lawsuit.

Not surprisingly such legalistic pugilism has not made Adobe greatly loved in the open source/Linux community. This probably doesn't matter directly to the graphics leviathan, but you never know when you might need some good karma in the Unix/Linux world, especially when Microsoft finally comes looking for you with 'Graphic Office 1.0'.

Perhaps as a result, Adobe has softened its tone. At the very least they have called off their legal rottweiler, which it seems may have been acting in a somewhat maverick manner. Reinhard Skuhra et al refuse to talk to the press about the matter and, perhaps tellingly, declined to confirm that they working directly on Adobe's orders. Maybe that's why they wanted their victim to pay the bill? If so, that's quite a business model for any budding law company to aspire to.

An Adobe spokeswoman admitted that 'the matter was not handled the way that Adobe intended. This is, as you know, not the way Adobe works,' a senior PR told The Reg.

"Adobe's primary interest in this issue is to protect its trademark rights and goodwill associated with its Illustrator product. Adobe has no intention of requiring Dr. Sattler to cease distribution of his product or pay Adobe any fees, only to change the name of his software," she said.

"We have contacted Dr. Sattler and are committed to working out an amicable solution to this," she added.

"It seems that we will find an agreement and I think we will change the name of KIllustrator. However, at the moment the lawyers are still negotiating," a somewhat wearied Sattler told The Reg. ®

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