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Python-lovers sling 'death threats' at UK ISP in trademark row

Cops called after venomous vigilantes 'DDoS site, scream down phone at staff'

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UK webhosting outfit Veber has called the police after fending off abuse in the wake of its attempt to trademark "python" in Europe. The small biz said it came under fire from fans of the popular Python programming language.

The firestorm appeared to have been ignited by a Python Software Foundation (PSF) blog post on 14 February: the article claimed the Python language was "at risk" because Veber had filed an application for a community trademark on the word "python".

Veber staff said they received thousands of phone calls and emails, some of which were described as abusive and threatening, since Valentine’s Day.

Veber told The Reg it received 150 messages an hour or more than 4,000 since last Thursday. Half were sent anonymously with no return address, we're told. The firm said it had filed a report with the plod due to what it described as the threatening nature of the calls and emails.

The website hosting biz was also kicked offline by a tsunami of online rage: the company’s main site, plus the site of its fledgling Python hosting and backup service, were been taken down by what Veber described as a "27.5GB DDoS attack".

Tim Poultney, Veber's chief executive, told us: “We’ve had French, German... people giving us silent calls, people screaming ‘you are going to die’, emails coming in to staff calling them corporate whores.

“We are five men and a dog - not a multinational with lawyers. One of the guys is off with stress."

In the blog post headlined "Python in Peril", the PSF referred to Veber's attempt to secure a European trademark on the name Python. Meanwhile, Veber has owned and used Python.co.uk for 16 years.

In the blog, Van Lindberg, listed as the PSF chairman, claimed Veber was trying to claim “python... for all software, services, servers... pretty much anything having to do with a computer”. He called on Python developers to write letters and send literature proving prior art on the name.

Van Lindberg wrote in the blog: “We contacted the owners of python.co.uk repeatedly and tried to discuss the matter with them. They blew us off and responded by filing the community trademark application claiming the exclusive right to use 'Python' for software, servers, and web services - everywhere in Europe.”

However, Veber's Poultney told a slightly different story. He accused the PSF of going incommunicado following an initial flurry of emails – and claimed his lawyers tried to contact the PSF nine times since September without response. He alleged that his lawyers tried again on Tuesday last week - Van Lindberg’s blog followed on the Thursday.

Under the European trademark process, an applicant is informed of those already holding a conflicting trademark and the application is either scrapped or amended. It would be up to the PSF to contact European trademark officials with its objections. Van Lindberg's request for examples of prior art would lead us to believe he is working on this, but we cannot confirm either way.

Lindberg isn’t just the PSF’s chairman: he’s also an intellectual property lawyer for Texan legal firm Haynes and Boone, and describes himself as PSF's counsel.

Veber, meanwhile, has held the Python.co.uk domain since 1997. In January 2012 it announced the web domain and name would be used for a new hosting and backup service. It was this announcement that attracted the PSF’s attention.

PSF has held a US trademark on the name Python since 2004, but Van Lindberg claimed the Python trademark has been in continued worldwide use since 1991. This is not the year the trademark was filed, though: it’s the year Python was created.

It appears that PSF cannot claim exclusivity on the name as more than 200 other companies of different sizes and interests in the US now also own Python trademarks, from those making vehicle-tracking systems to musical instruments and stationery. Among them is ActiveState, which makes a business from selling support for its own packaged distro of Python called ActivePython.

PSF doesn't have a clear field in Europe either. According to the European Trademarks and Designs Registration Office, 12 operations hold Python in their trademark.

Poultney claims he’s only interested in the trademark on the servers. “We are not interested in the trademark on the language,” Poultney told The Reg.

We contacted the PSF's Van Lindberg for comment, and we asked whether the PSF planned to take legal action against Veber, whether it could confirm that it had been contacted by Veber's lawyers and whether it plans to state its objections - or perhaps already has done - under the normal process of a European trademark application.

We didn’t receive an answer at time of writing, but will update once we hear more. ®

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