Recently at Collabora we received a set of demands from a subset of TDF's board with a short deadline to 'correct all possible findings' and to correct "on the indicated pages and on all pages that might contain these or comparable 'infringements'".
These demands cover a number of topics that the community has discussed here, and will be of general interest to all Trustees of TDF, they will impact the use of the LibreOffice trademark for the future too, and may be generally interesting for other projects, so we should probably discuss the policy pieces (but not the specific legal aspects) publicly here.
I will go over the substance of these findings below, as I understand them, and make the complete original mail available to Trustees.
This came from a small subset of TDF's board, along with excerpts of a letter from Chestek Legal. This form of legal disputation is unusual to find next to a claim to be 'friendly' along with a one week deadline. It also had a really unhelpful means of notification, and a requirement to acknowledge receipt. Legal concerns should be sent by TDF to email@example.com - and not via individual board members who are not responsible for the relevant decisions.
* Protecting and nurturing TDF
Of course, it is important to protect TDF's LibreOffice trademarks. It is also important to ensure that TDF's resources and trademarks are used to serve TDF's mission: there is no question of that, and we support that.
Indeed it is hard to find an entity that supports TDF more than Collabora - we are privileged to be LibreOffice's largest code contributor, one of the largest donors, and we help to provide a significant chunk of the mentoring, technical input, volunteer assistance, sponsorship and so on that makes LibreOffice possible.
Its safe to say we've contributed substantially to LibreOffice the product, LibreOffice the project, the LibreOffice API (and Kit), the LibreOffice community, LibreOffice as a technology, the LibreOffice file-format across many versions, and many other incarnations of LibreOffice including LibreOffice the product TDF will now sell.
Given that - it is curious then to hear the language of legal threat used to make demands - the reasonableness of which we'll
examine below. Was that tone really intended ? Normally if there is something wrong, we'd expect a friendly discussion and request.
It is well worth pointing out that (in my inexpert, IANAL opinion) Pamela is an excellent lawyer in our domain whom I have commended to others. However, the advice can only be as good as the instruction & brief. That brief & what is subsequently done with the advice would (I imagine) be provided by this (self-appointed?) small board sub-group including: Paolo Vecchi from the legal committee, and Emiliano Vavassori who mailed - I would expect in conjunction with Mike Schinagl as counsel, and Florian Effenberger as Executive Director.
* First a little history:
Initially (in ~2014), Collabora decided to build and invest in a co-branded product under license from TDF: "LibreOffice-from-Collabora". However this brought with it an unusual level of board criticism / input on our marketing: color schemes, requirements for front-page links to "LibreOffice available for free", and so on - that were sufficiently burdensome, unpredictable and unhelpful that we re-branded to "Collabora Office" in 2015. That change also attracted criticism. Now we come to a similar, but more serious inflection point with a yet wider scope.
* The findings:
I quote a subset of the points here for brevity and to avoid repetition; though we dispute all of the findings - I will quote the text as if sent by E-mail thus:
Chestek Legal writes:
** An enterprise version of LibreOffice:
The description says "Collabora Office is an enterprise version of
LibreOffice, the world’s most popular open-source office productivity
It is important to us to credit the LibreOffice project as a whole of course, and we work hard to do that.
That is an inaccurate statement; LibreOffice is well - suited to the
enterprise and used by a large number of enterprise users around the
world. The statement “Enterprise-wide: one office suite common to
your entire environment” is also inaccurate because it suggests that
the same version of LibreOffice cannot be deployed across an entire
Yet this flies in the face of the positive TDF marketing plan discussed with the community at length, and approved by the board in 2020 which resulted in empowering our marketing team. eg. https://www.libreoffice.org/download/libreoffice-in-business/ states:
"LibreOffice is also great for schools, educational and
research institutions, and large organisations; in these
cases, we strongly recommend using LibreOffice Enterprise
versions from one of our ecosystem partners, such as those
In that way, you can get long-term Service Level Agreements
(SLA), personalised assistance, technical support, and custom
new features. Furthermore, the work done by ecosystem partners
flows back into the LibreOffice project, benefiting the larger
community of LibreOffice users."
A great summary. Collabora Office is an enterprise product based on LibreOffice, it includes "custom new features", and we also
contribute back to "benefit[ing] the larger community". We make it available across a full suite of enterprise platforms from Linux, iOS, Android, ChromeOS, Mac, Windows.
Perhaps there is some semantic difference here: "LibreOffice Enterprise versions" vs. "an enterprise version of LibreOffice" ? We strongly prefer to fairly describe what we do without relying on a formal agreement built on the whims of TDF; for obvious and historical reasons.
1. Remove the statements ”Collabora Office is an enterprise version
of LibreOffice” and “Enterprise-wide: one office suite common to
your entire environment.” Collabora Office may say that the product
is based on LibreOffice but not that it is an “enterprise” version
This plan was created in good faith to help to drive TDF's mission, it is unfortunate to further weaken that plan - it is unclear if this board subset intends to unilaterally change that, without discussion.
If this TDF policy changes and there is more clarity on the real problem here then of course we can spend time to adapt our messaging.
** Collabora Office has shiny new features:
There are several statements that suggest that Collabora Office has
features that are not available in LibreOffice, such as
•“Sparklines … the support for them premieres with the release of
Collabora Office 22.05”
This is just such an example of a "custom new feature" - one of many that we are pleased to have implemented and contributed to the LibreOffice core.
For decades it has been the practice of good FLOSS corporate citizens to write and create new functionality for projects, so that they can be first to market. Disrupting that would seem a poor way to encourage corporate contribution. An alternative - of encouraging non-contribution of improvements up-stream to LibreOffice seems particularly poor style in a FLOSS context. We strongly prefer to work up-stream first - and we also have to deliver bespoke features to our customers in a timely way.
•“Collabora engineers” have made “significant performance
improvements” in “the “new main version of Collabora Office.”
This is naturally the case.
** Collabora Office advertises many features:
If these features and improvements are also available in a publicly
available version of LibreOffice, then the statements are misleading
because it suggests that these same features or improvements are not
available in LibreOffice.
It is not clear to me how a positive and accurate affirmation of features available in Collabora Office disparages LibreOffice or misleads anyone.
I note that LibreOffice describes itself as of writing:
<title>Home | LibreOffice - Free Office Suite - Based on OpenOffice - Compatible with Microsoft</title>
Surely this is not to suggest that positive statements about LibreOffice's features on TDF's web properties implicitly imply that some of them are not available in OpenOffice ? That seems like an unhelpful interpretation for TDF to adopt.
It is also unclear to me how this proposal works reciprocally - should TDF be promoting these features if they were previously available in Collabora Office ? perhaps this approach should be re-thought.
3. Remove all statements suggesting that Collabora Office has
features that are not available in LibreOffice where the features
are available in a publicly available version of LibreOffice, or
clarify that the features are also available in LibreOffice.
Please note that these same changes should be made on the Collabora
Removing such statements from our release notes - which detail what changes were made in each released version - seems an extraordinary ask! Up-to-date release notes with a factual record of features included as they are released is important for enterprise (and other) users to track. Adapting these as features are released in LibreOffice appears both burdensome and unnecessary, adding credits to TDF for features we have implemented is quite an ask.
** Collabora Office has lots of testing on top:
The description says “More than 80 million users including
governments and FTSE 500 companies.” I do not believe this is an
accurate statement about Collabora Office but is instead accurate
This is a curious claim. There are a very large number of Collabora Office & Online users both paying for COOL and using our development version (CODE). Our user numbers are calculated using a very similar method to TDF's LibreOffice user numbers - they are a deliberate under-estimate. We stand by our statement.
The description says that Collabora Office has been
“Enterprise-hardened through relentless independent testing.”
Collabora Office must have proof of this testing of the Collabora
Office application (not LibreOffice) in order to make the claim.
2. Remove the statement “Enterprise-hardened through relentless
independent testing” if Collabora Office does not have proof of this
testing for Collabora Office (not LibreOffice).
Naturally this is easy for us to show. In addition to that the LibreOffice master, fresh and still releases on top of which we are based are all part of this process - as we work as a key part of the community to build an enterprise quality release of LibreOffice.
** Trademark rules for app-stores:
I imagine it is a good thing to defend the LibreOffice trademark, although apparently it is an expensive task even for Linux.
It would also be helpful to have some clarity on distribution in app-stores to pre-empt the next avoidable problems here.
When it comes to app-stores it would be good to clarify the TM policy: what is and what is not an app-store etc. I highlighted the issues in my thank-you mail here:
I strongly suggest that annoying good FLOSS citizens by suggesting that their hard work to distribute LibreOffice in app-stores eg. Flatpak hub, Snap store and elsewhere is in some way confusing and should stop would be deeply counter-productive. Also costly for TDF to have to maintain going forward.
I suggest a fix: that the supposed confusion of identity in "Non Permitted Use 1." should be specialized only to those app-stores where TDF is also distributing LibreOffice binaries.
** Spending legal resources wisely.
Spending TDF's resources on legal disputes with friendly contributors seems superficially unwise at any time. I really hope that the Eur 2.5+ million in cash TDF sits on today will not be re-directed to legal cases.
While doing many good things for LibreOffice - TDF appears not only to have halted its spending on feature development - but also (at the time of writing) to be in material breach of its obligations under existing tendered contracts. Acting this way while relying on the patience and goodwill of suppliers is curious.
Not paying suppliers, and not honouring contracts would seem (superficially) to me to be a more pressing concern for TDF's legal resources at this time.
I would expect the community to be disappointed too with the lack of progress on some exciting features eg. SmartArt which missed LibreOffice 7.4 due to this unfortunate situation.
Given the situation, TDF is unfortunately forced to act quickly. We
therefore ask the changes to be made within one (1) week after this
Apologies for the delay - but notification just after I leave for vacation in August is far from ideal.
We kindly ask you to immediately confirm when you have received
Let me acknowledge receipt.
It is the mission of Collabora to make Open Source rock - and we strongly prefer to spend our resources on actually doing that: developing and contributing great features to LibreOffice, COOL and a huge number of other FLOSS projects. Our marketing is there to further this end - we have to market and sell - in order to re-invest in creating great FLOSS.
We are of course happy to do corrections where they are reasonable and appropriate - and seek to have good relations with TDF, to respect their trademark, and to build positive marketing messaging that credits everyone. Indeed - it is generally a pleasure to work with TDF's marketing team of Italo, Mike & volunteers, (as well as other TDF staff who do great work on the project).
However - we struggle to understand why we should invest in changing Collabora's marketing on the basis of these claims, asserted this way.
** Improving the legal decision making process
No doubt everyone is trying hard to do the right thing for TDF. It would perhaps be helpful to better brief and instruct its counsel, refresh its legal process and team - and perhaps include its marketing staff into relevant discussions.
Even better it could focus its time on un-blocking TDF investment of donor's money into real feature/function improvement to make the positive changes in the code we all know are needed, which have been budgeted, and for which we have more than enough funding.
Interestingly Sun transferred to themselves the OpenOffice.org trademark back in 2008 which generated widespread concerns around how that could be (mis-)used against contributors. Sun managed to sort things out without reaching this level of dispute AFAIK, indeed I've yet to see a complaint from (even competitors) tackled in this way.
We would ask the TDF board to pick a direction and stick with it, get this confusion sorted out, improve its processes as above, to speak with a consistent voice and to focus on executing on its mission.
It is sad to me that this sort of change consumes a non-trivial amount of Collabora resource that should be focused on powering the FLOSS development we love and which benefits all LibreOffice users.
 - https://dashboard.documentfoundation.org/
 - https://listarchives.documentfoundation.org/www/board-discuss/2020/msg00691.html
 - https://www.collaboraoffice.com/press-releases/collabora-office-22-05-introduces-new-features-and-performance-enhancements-combined-with-excellent-interoperability/
 - eg. search for 'Performance'
 - https://www.zdnet.com/article/torvalds-weighs-in-on-linux-trademark-row/
 - https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/TDF/Policies/Trademark_Policy
 - https://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg06010.html