IIRC, a court recently ruled that calling closed-source software "open-source" in marketing is false advertising. Does this apply to "open" on its own? For example, is the name of OpenVMS false advertising? My first thought when I saw the name was "this is going to be open-source," and I was quite surprised to see that it is proprietary.


4 Answers 4


The limits of "deceptive advertising" are determined by lawsuit. This note assembles a number of cases where names were or were not held to be per se deceptive ("Diet Coke" is not a deceptive name; self-certification of quality often is). A finding of deceptive advertising is founded on an intent to deceive, and is not based on whether consumers make false inferences. For instance, "natural" is puffery, but "organic" is has a specific and enforceable meaning under the law in the US, governed by USDA regulations. The historical intent behind the OpenVMS name name selection is to refer to a kind of computing, open system computing. It is consumer error to confuse open system with open source.


OpenVMS does not advertise itself as "open-source", nor does the the name indicate it's open-source. For example, if the name were "OpenSourceVMS" then there might be a basis for such confusion.

VMS Software, Inc., the current owner of the product, does not make any open-source claims for the product itself although there are a number of components that are compatible with it that are open-source.

I suppose that if you feel that you have been damaged by your misunderstanding of their product terms due to the name you could file a lawsuit.

  • 7
    In my mind it does not. The word "open" is NOT synonymous with "open-source".
    – jwh20
    Aug 8, 2022 at 18:45
  • 4
    @Someone it's just a name, not a promise. You could buy a product named "GreenGrass" but it need not be green, or grass. It's a name. Aug 8, 2022 at 19:01
  • 9
    @Someone: You might be surprised to learn that Coca-Cola does not contain cocaine, then. Aug 8, 2022 at 19:38
  • 5
    @JörgWMittag, but Coca-Cola once did contain cocaine. :) Aug 8, 2022 at 21:07
  • 37
    @Someone As far as I know, there has never been a time when one could buy a rain forest or river on Amazon.com. Nor has Adobe ever sold mud bricks. Tater Tots aren’t even shaped like children nor made from young potatoes. There are at least two entities named “Black Box” and neither sells black boxes. Apple does not sell fruit of any kind, and their iCloud service has nothing to do with suspended water droplets. I could go on. If a brand name were any kind of promise, there would be a lot of potential litigation over it. Aug 9, 2022 at 3:04

As @jwh20 said, OpenVMS is not advertised as being open-source, it just uses the word "Open" in its name. There are many other products that use this naming style that are also not open source.

Before the term "open source" became popular, the term "open" was often used to refer to adherence to open standards. It would also refer to software and hardware with published specifications that could be emulated; for instance Apple's Macintosh design is considered "closed" because they prohibit creating clones, while the IBM PC architecture is "open" (hence the proliferation of companies that produced PC-compatible systems).

Given that there are so many interpretations of "open" in the IT industry, I think it would be very unlikely for a court to judge that using it in the name of this product would specifically imply that it's open source.

More generally, brand names are rarely expected to be literal descriptions of the products. The FDA (and analogous bodies in other countries) has rules about using specific terms in food and drug names (e.g. "XXX juice" requires a certain percentage of the product to be XXX), but I think there are few similar regulations in other industries.

You can jump to whatever conclusions you like, but unless this is were a widespread confusion, I don't think they would be considered to be deceptive.


What does "open" without source even mean? Besides, as others already pointed a word embedded in a name might not mean anything. But let's say that they actually asserted in a statement that their software is "open".

Is open-source the only meaning that the word "open" can have?

How about closed source software with an open API?

How about software that reads/writes open document formats vs proprietary ones?

How about software that allows itself to be installed on any compatible hardware vs software where vendor lock-in is enforced with some sort of hardware key. Think OSX(x86) vs Windows.

What other meanings might "open" have? I think it's more than just source code.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .