The A-Z of Programming Languages: Arduino's Tom Igoe

Computerworld's series on the most popular programming languages continues as we chat to Arduino's Tom Igoe

We have heard the developers have expressed a desire that the name "Arduino" (or derivatives thereof) be exclusive to the official product and not be used for derivative works without permission - is this correct and if so, why take this measure?

This is true, we registered the trademark. It's pretty common to do that in open source. If you look at Linux, MySQL, or Apache, or Ubuntu, for example, they're all trademarked, even though they are open source. So those were our models. There are a couple reasons why we chose to do this.

First off, names carry responsibility. While we're happy with people using the design files or the code we've generated, we feel that naming is something that should remain unique. When a person buys an Arduino board, she should be able to count on the manufacturer standing behind it. We do, for those manufacturers to whom we've licensed the name, because we work closely with them to ensure a standard of quality and ease of use that we are proud of. If, on the other hand, someone buys a board called Arduino from a manufacturer with whom we have no contact, and then sends it to us or one of our manufacturers for repair or replacement, we (or they) can't be expected to service it. We can't guarantee the level of quality with someone we haven't been working with.

Second, product names work a lot like personal names: If I wrote an article and quoted Trevor Clarke, you'd probably be fine with it, but if I wrote it *as* Trevor Clarke, you probably wouldn't. You'd have no way of ensuring that the article was factually correct, or represented your views. But there's your name on it. We feel the same way about boards and software. If you want to use the Arduino designs or source code to make your own board (basically, quoting the project) that's great. If you want to call it "Arduino-compatible" (citing the quote) that's fine too. But we'd prefer you give your own board its own name.

Finally, there's a practical level why we retain the trademark. The hardware end of the business is commercially self-sustaining, but the software doesn't pay for itself. We charge a license fee to the licensed manufacturers for each board they sell. That money goes to pay for maintenance and development of the software and the website. It allows each of us to take a couple hours a week off from our other jobs to maintain the parts of the Arduino system that don't pay for themselves.

You can make derivatives works without permission, it's just the name that is trademarked. Most of the clones did not seek our permission, nor do they need it, as long as they're not called "Arduino." There are tons of *duinos out there that are just fine, except for the fact that they bastardize the Italian language. But then again, so does Starbucks.

Patience. Persistence. And frequent showers. I get my best problem solving done in the shower.

(Tom Igoe's advice for up and coming hardware hackers)

What projects have you used Arduino for yourself?

I use it all the time. The first use I ever made of it was with the rest of the team, developing prototypes for a lighting company in Italy. That project made me see how useful a platform it was. I also use it in my teaching. It's the first hardware platform I've used that I feel like I can teach beginners with, and also use in my professional work as well.

As for personal projects: I developed a new version of my email clock (a clock that ticks forward for each new email received) using Arduino. I made a cat bed that emails me when it's taken a picture of the cat; an air-quality meter; a blinking fan sign for my favorite roller derby team; and more. I use it in class just about every day.

Have you ever seen Arduino used in a way you never intended it to be deployed?

Well, it was intended to be deployed in a wide variety of ways, so not really. I guess for me, the one thing I never intend it to be used for is to hurt people or to do damage, so I hope I never see it used for that.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming hardware hackers?

Patience. Persistence. And frequent showers. I get my best problem solving done in the shower.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thanks to everyone who's used Arduino! We've had a great time working on it, and it's incredibly rewarding to see people realise things they didn't think were possible because of something we made.


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Tags software developmenta-z of programming languagesArduinoTom Igoe

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