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Say I want to create a programming language with some name, but there already exists another programming language with the same name. Could I get in trouble (legal or otherwise) if I create another programming language with this same name?

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    Why would you do that? – Azor Ahai -him- Aug 2 '20 at 19:24
  • @AzorAhai--hehim There are tons of toy programming languages out there (mine included), and coming up with a cool, unique name for one is not easy. I've thought of 10+ names so far for my programming language, but every time I do a Google search to see if there already exists another programming language with the same name, I end up find that the name is already taken. – jinscoe123 Aug 2 '20 at 19:31
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    What does common sense say about using the same name as another language? – BlueDogRanch Aug 2 '20 at 20:33
  • @BlueDogRanch I'm a Software engineering student, not a lawyer. This is not a matter of common sense, but a matter of difference in education. – jinscoe123 Aug 2 '20 at 20:36
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    Think of the users. They google for an issue and have no way to distinguish your and the other language. Think how languages are named. – Bernhard Döbler Aug 2 '20 at 21:20
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It would not be a copyright. Names and short phrases are not subject to copyright, but it could be a trademark under common law ( e.g. state law in the U.S.) or could be registered.

Some people think a trademark defines a product. That is not the case, a trademark identifies the source of a product or service.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I upvoted you, but I accepted gnasher729's answer because both of you posted at approximately the same time, but he also provided an example. – jinscoe123 Aug 2 '20 at 21:37
  • @jinscoe123 but the other answer is seriously flawed as outlined in the comments. – phoog Oct 20 '20 at 16:36
  • @phoog - you are correct that the accepted answer has serious flaws. – George White Oct 20 '20 at 18:55
  • I changed the accepted answer to the one posted by @George White after hearing several others claim that the answer I originally accepted is flawed. – jinscoe123 Oct 21 '20 at 17:39
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Programming language names are not copyrighted - they are much too short for that.

Some programming language names are protected by a Trademark. For example, Apple Inc. holds the trademark for "Swift". I am quite sure that Java is protected in a way that you cannot call a language Java that doesn't match the definition of the "real" Java.

The biggest problem is that if you sell let's say a compiler for the FORTRAN language to me, and it doesn't compile the language that I know as FORTRAN, then I will sue you for damages and the judge will throw your excuse that finding a "cool, unique" name is hard out of the court.

The designer Raymond Loewy was hired by a company as an expert witness: Their competitor had copied the design of their product and claimed that it was impossible to find a different design and get the same functionality. Loewy arrived at the court a few days later with three totally different designs.

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  • If I don't plan on ever selling my language, but rather just publish it under an open source license (e.g. the MIT License), will that be okay? Or am I still opening myself up to legal issues, say, in the case that the programming language name happens to be trademarked? – jinscoe123 Aug 2 '20 at 21:42
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    Regarding the Fortran example and trademarks. Trademarks do not specify a product, they identify the source of the product. At Original Tommy's Burger one can get several different items. The items are allowed to change but no one else can call their burger shop Original Tommy's Burger. That is the essence of a trademark. If you can't insert the word "brand" after the trademark it is not being properly used as a trademark. – George White Aug 2 '20 at 21:48
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    You have the Java example backwards - you can't sell anything you call Java (in its trademarked category) regardless of how compatible it is with Oracle's implementation. If it is software called Java it must come from or be licensed by the trademark owner - no specification is implied. If you told a customer that your debugger was compatible with Java - a perfectly allowed use of the trademark - but it wasn't, the customer would be mad at you for misrepresenting your product, not Oracle. – George White Aug 2 '20 at 22:04
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    Company A has a trademark for X, they license company B to use that trademark - under certain contractual conditions. Company B does not meet those conditions, whatever they are, so company A cancels the license to use the trademark. It is a contractual issue not something inherent in trademark rights. – George White Aug 3 '20 at 0:47
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    The FORTRAN example is misleading. There are two problems with it. The example doesn't mention the status of FORTRAN (international standard by ISO, not a trademark) and the example doesn't make clear what the claim in the hypothetical lawsuit would be. It appears that lawsuit is not by a trademark owner, so the subject can't be that trademark. Third parties can't sue over trademark infringement. – MSalters Aug 3 '20 at 8:21

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