Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Opposing Salesforce.com attempt to TM "Social Enterprise"

I've been working closely with Kevin Lynch, the CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance, on countering the efforts of Salesforce.com to attempt to trademark the name of our entire field, Social Enterprise. Kevin and the SEA today launched an Initiative To Protect the Meaning of Social Enterprise, supporting the efforts of our peers with Social Enterprise UK in their "NotInOurName" campaign. Here is the letter I'm sending to the USPTO supporting their initial recommendation against granting this registered trademark in the U.S.

August 28, 2012
Michael Webster, Examining Attorney
USPTO Law Office 102
Commissioner for Trademarks
Alexandria, VA

Re: Trademark Application 85492013, by Salesforce.com using the mark “Social Enterprise”

Dear Examiner Webster:

We note with interest the Examiner’s Office Action of March 13, 2012, stating the initial reasons for rejection of the referenced application. On behalf of our nonprofit organization, Benetech, and the thousands of similarly situated social enterprises in the United States, we are writing to support this rejection. In addition, we hope to supply the Examiner additional information that may be relevant in reviewing this and similar applications in the future. Our goal is to make four critical supporting points:
• The term “Social enterprise” is descriptive.
• “Social enterprise” is generic.
• “Social enterprise” is in wide use in Trademark classes covering computer software and services to business and society.
• The subject application is against the public interest.

1. Social enterprise is descriptive.

The term social enterprise is in common use globally to describe enterprises that have a social welfare intent. In the Merriam Webster dictionary definition featured in the Office Action, this is the third meaning of social: “advancing the welfare of human beings in society.” The use of social as an adjective to modify enterprise dates back to at least the 19th century in the writings of Karl Marx (although modern usage does not follow Marx’ usage). The Wikipedia entry on this topic is extensive, and the most common usage in the marketplace is for the socially beneficial flavor of “social enterprise,” not the Salesforce one-year-old marketing campaign.

2. Social enterprise is generic.

The widespread use of the term “social enterprise” to describe business undertakings that have a socially beneficial component makes the term manifestly generic. It should be noted that Google has more than five million instances of websites using the phrase “social enterprise.” Universities have programs on learning how to run social enterprises. In doing a Google search on the term, Harvard Business School has an ad listing: “Social Enterprise Programs for Senior Managers. Apply Online,” which leads to a web page
(http://www.exed.hbs.edu/category/Pages/socialenterprise.aspx) with the “Social Enterprise” topic listed between the generic terms as “Real Estate” and “Strategy.” Once universities have courses in a subject area, it would seem clear that the term is quite generic.

Finally, I was a founding board member and a former chair of the Social Enterprise Alliance, a North American industry association made up of more than 500 social enterprises, and the owner of related trademarks in the social enterprise sector. At the time we applied for our much more narrowly drawn trademarks, we and our attorneys thought it inconceivable that anyone could try to baldly own the name of our entire industry.

3. Social enterprise is widely used in classes covering computer software and services.

The application purports to claim the trademark “social enterprise” in five areas: computer software, business services, educational services, on-line software and social networking services. Unfortunately, there are literally hundreds of nonprofit social enterprises operating in all of these areas. My organization, Benetech, alone has products and services touching on all of these areas:
• We write the leading software package used for managing conservation projects: Miradi, a standalone software program usable on PCs and Macs, and our Read2Go software is the leading Special Education Literacy software for the iOS platform (for iPhones and iPads)
• We work with multiple third-party social enterprises to convert inaccessible books into digital books, and provide these digital books for publishers as a business service
• Our Route 66 Literacy program is an educational service for teaching reading to developmentally disabled teenagers and adults, and our Bookshare project is the largest on-line library for students with disabilities in the country, serving over 200,000 American students with disabilities with the accessible books they need to succeed in education
• Both Bookshare and Route 66 are online services, commonly known as “cloud computing” solutions
• Our Martus standalone software package helps activists collect information about human rights violations and securely share that information both with trusted partners and the world utilizing storage in “the cloud,” a highly valuable example of social networking software

Benetech is just one small nonprofit organization in the field of Information and Communications Technology, but we have hundreds of peers. For example, there are many just in the area of open source foundations: nonprofit organizations structured as social enterprises writing open source software for the benefit of society, with many examples in each of the five claimed areas.

4. The application is against the public interest.

It is not in the public interest to have one for profit company attempt to gain a monopoly over a single generic term in common use. The public interest is served even less when a business entity such as Salesforce attempts to privatize a term predominately used by the nonprofit sector. The great majority of social enterprises are nonprofit organizations dedicated to the social good through employing disadvantaged people, educating students, improving the environment, advancing health care, respect for human rights and so many other beneficial activities.


Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns and to express our support for the rejection of the application for a trademark on the term “social enterprise.” The social enterprise movement is a global one, so we hope that the measured approach of the USPTO to this application is echoed by peer trademark authorities in other countries. We sincerely hope that this letter supplied information that the Examiner may also find useful in future consideration of trademarks relating to the term “social enterprise.”


James R. Fruchterman
President and CEO

Friday, August 17, 2012

Benetech, Bookshare and Google Summer of Code

Many thanks to Thushan Ganegedara for this guest post about his summer open source project.

I’m Thushan Ganegedara, a 3rd year undergraduate from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. My interests are Mobile Development and Computational Intelligence. My first-ever experience with Google Summer of Code has been with Benetech. I have realized that Benetech is indeed “technology serving humanity.” I feel fortunate to work with a set of employees who are technically competent yet very friendly and helpful.

My project is associated with the ‘Go Read’ Android application. Go Read is a free e-book reader that people with print disabilities can use to read Bookshare titles. Go Read searches for books based on title, author, etc., or gets the latest/popular books using the Bookshare API. Additionally Go Read downloads books from Bookshare’s collection using the Bookshare API. Bookshare has a rich collection of books, newspapers and magazines. The project I’m working on consists of several major objectives:
  1. Implement Periodical Downloading Go Read currently has download capability only for books. It has not yet been extended to newspapers and magazines. Therefore, the application will be extended to allow users to download newspapers and magazines as well as books. 
  2. Integrate Social Network sharing Social Networks have become one of the very popular trends in the modern society. So why not give Go Read some space in social networks? Users can share interesting books on social networks. As for this project, with the limited time frame, I have limited the social network integration to Facebook and Twitter. 
  3. Implement a service which allows users to subscribe to a particular magazine or newspaper In the current version of Go Read, users have to explicitly go to the app, select the book and download it. This could become tiresome for the user who wants to download a daily/weekly newspaper/magazine from Bookshare. This subscription mechanism will notify the user whenever a new issue of the subscribed newspaper/magazine is available on Bookshare. 

When I’m looking down the road I have traveled, it has been a wonderful and fruitful experience. I’ve collected experience on various aspects such as: communication, delivering code on time, managing a project on GitHub, setting up milestones and issues, and completing them on time. Moreover, I should mention my mentor Meghan Larson who has been a great support in my journey. She has been very supportive and responsive on the matters I have had so far. She has been a wonderful mentor. Additionally I should mention Rom Srinivasan, who has been a great support starting from the proposal submission period.  

Benetech is very pleased to have talented, dedicated engineers like Thusan working for us this summer, and very grateful that Google included us in their Summer of Code program!

Monday, August 13, 2012

President’s Update - Spring 2012

Telling the Benetech story better is crucial to our future: crucial to making the social change at scale that we consider the essence of innovation. It also helps with recruiting employees, volunteers, and donors!

In 2012, we’ll be rolling out new branding, new media, and new stories all with the goal of getting better at what we do and raising our impact.

However, the very first step we took was to ask our team to describe the core values that make us who we are. We asked “What is true about Benetech, what are the truths that define our identity, our culture, and the values that drive our work?” Rebranding is about telling our story better, not changing our core values. Our team articulately expressed direct, succinct truths that required no editing. They just worked!

This President’s Update isn’t about our latest news, not about our newest projects or accomplishments. Instead, I’d like to share with you the Seven Benetech Truths. I hope you find them as interesting and inspiring as we do. I know it will give you a better insight into how Benetech envisions our work and our future!

The Seven Benetech Truths: 

  1. Social Change Through Technology 
  2. We Get Stuff Done 
  3. Right Stuff Right 
  4. Open Over Proprietary 
  5. Partnership Over Going Alone 
  6. Value Flexibility 
  7. Personal and Professional Development 

Social Change Through Technology

Benetech is about social change first and foremost. Our goal is social change at scale. Technology just happens to be a great way to get to scale, to create leverage to re-invent the way people are doing business throughout the social sector. We’re not about profit; we’re about impact.

We need to be sustainable to make that impact. Benetech’s approach differs from that of other groups in that we do not limit our interest to a single issue area. We are about big, positive change using technology as the vehicle. Achieving scale usually leads to sustainability: when we demonstrate that a new Benetech solution is far more effective than the status quo, we can usually find a way to finance that innovation for the future.

We Get Stuff Done 

Benetechers are intensely results focused. We aim high, and then try to exceed our commitments. We’re not about completing a process, studying a problem, or conducting a pilot project as an end point. Those activities must be on the path to accomplishing something big. This means that we fully commit to the fields where we operate, to ensure that we learn and follow through on the promises we’ve made.

We measure what we do, so that we know we’re getting stuff done. Because technology is our signature tool for creating impact, we can easily build in the metrics. Because we’re typically unique in our work, we are usually creating new metrics, which we develop in conjunction with the community we’re serving as well as with our funders. That way, our project manager has a dashboard of metrics to use that is aligned with the goals and interests of all of our stakeholders in pursuing maximum impact.

Right Stuff Right 

Just three words that convey so much.

  • Quality: building a great technology tool or doing science to world-class standards. As technologists and scientists, we have a shared value of professional competence. Our users depend on us to get things right, whether it’s protecting human rights information from attackers, ensuring a student has an accessible textbook in time for school, or guiding an environmentalist in the best ways to deploy their limited resources. 
  • Effective: figuring out what the right thing is to do. There are many opportunities to take action, but we only can do a tiny fraction of that. What’s the one, most important objective we can pursue for maximum impact? 
  • Ethical: conducting business in the right way. Get the accounting done to the highest standard. Respecting the law. Avoiding conflicts of interest. 

When we’re trying to make a decision about something, the way forward is just so much clearer when someone asks, “yes, but are we doing the right thing right?”

Open Over Proprietary 

We’re an open source organization. Not only do we write open source software, but the content we create is almost always available under Creative Commons licenses. We make more information accessible to the people who need it for education, employment, health, the environment, and human rights. Keeping something important proprietary and closed increases the chance that it won’t make a difference.

There is information that we do consider highly proprietary: the information shared with us by our users and partners. Whether it’s a student’s disability status or a gripping story of human rights suffering, we need to ensure that confidentiality commitments are honored. We’re pragmatic enough to adopt a proprietary approach when we think it’s the best way to accomplish our mission goals, but we always lean towards open over closed.

We value transparency. We regularly update our team with our current financial situation and our challenges. We openly share our plans, our successes, and our failures. What’s really important is the mission, and we trust that being clear and open will lead to the best possible outcomes.

Partnership Over Going Alone 

Benetech’s strength is in developing technology responsive to real world needs, but we can’t go it alone. When we are channeling the real needs of the users, tapping domain expertise that we lack, or getting our solutions into the hands of thousands or millions, our partners are essential to everything we do. In so many areas, we have chosen the partners who have deep knowledge and deep trust networks. Benetech provides what they are missing — the technology development expertise and the connections with top tech communities and companies.

We respect our partners’ knowledge. We work hard to understand their political context and why they do what they do. We share the credit for successes, or sometimes stay in the background while helping our partners shine. Our partnerships result in better ultimate social impact when we’ve built trust with the people with whom we’re working.

Value Flexibility 

We respect our team, and their commitment to social change, to do what it takes. As part of that commitment, we prioritize flexibility both for and from our team members. This allows us to do more with less, while allowing our team members flexibility in how their work is accomplished.

Our entrepreneurial approach also requires flexibility. When you’re creating something new, it never goes according to plan. We need to be alert to better ways to accomplish the social objectives. We usually have three different revenues streams in mind to make a venture sustainable, but if a fourth approach appears to work, we’ll take it! Most of all, we need to pay attention to our users, the customers for our tools (even if they are free and open).

Personal and Professional Development 

Benetech seeks to create leaders by fostering personal learning, growth, and service. Whether that’s helping one of our team members get into graduate school, become a better public speaker, or directly experience the challenges faced by our users, we need to ensure that Benetech helps build the careers of our team members while we benefit from their service to our mission.

Ultimately, we’re helping to lead a movement to get technology fully into the service of humanity. We speak regularly to students and to professionals, sharing our love for our work and hoping to inspire a fresh crop of social entrepreneurs and innovators.


I hope this update has given you some insight into the key parts of the Benetech culture and an understanding of how these values are articulated in everything we do. As we continue to grow our team and our range of projects, it’s essential that we understand who we are, as well as the why and how of what we do. I’m looking forward to sharing our new branding and messaging (and a new website, of course) in the coming months, we think it will reflect our values and the excitement we feel about what we are accomplishing and what we have yet to do. Thanks for making all of what Benetech does possible!

Friday, August 10, 2012

There Are No Online Security Shortcuts for Human Rights

At Benetech, we're thinking about human rights activists everyday. We're not human rights advocates: we're a group of technologists and scientists dedicated to helping the human rights movement be safer and more effective. We prefer to work mainly behind the scenes, helping the activists pursue their mission of improving respect for human rights, advocating for policy change that advance rights and sometimes even obtaining justice against the perpetrators.

However, there are times where we need to weigh in on a technical issue that impacts human rights activists. Following an admiring Wired.com profile of the web-based chat program, Cryptocat, a fair amount of discussion ensued about the security risks of using a tool with this kind of web-based design. The relevant Wired.com editor responded with an endorsement for use by Middle Eastern dissidents of Hushmail, an online web mail site with a similar design.

The discussion, and this (to us) risky recommendation from a publication with a long history of covering these issues, led Benetech chief scientist, Dr. Patrick Ball, to respond. His oped, When It Comes to Human Rights, There Are No Online Security Shortcuts, was just published on Wired.com. We appreciate the opportunity from Wired to talk about our different views on this critically important issue.

The tech community has immense power in the global battle for human rights. Tech companies supply the tools to help repressive governments suppress human rights and access to information. Those of us in technology who seek to tip the balance back towards advocates of human rights have a responsibility to approach these issues with great care. We need tools that defend the defenders of human rights, and that activists will actually use.

The Benetech team has looked frequently at web-based (or more precisely: web-served) design for the tools we provide for activists, around securely capturing information about human rights abuses. We don't make chat or email tools like Cryptocat or Hushmail, but the security challenges we face in design are similar. To date, we haven't felt we could responsibly design around the intrinsic risks inherent in a web-based tool (although we have been interested in a new set of innovations called host-proof hosting that hold the potential of overcoming these risks).

The Wired piece correctly identifies one of the core challenges faced by designers of tech tools for use in the human rights field: the difficult tradeoff between security and usability. We were inspired to work in this field by Patrick Ball's work training activists around the world to use the first generation of crypto, the seminal program Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) invented by Phil Zimmermann. Patrick found that very few of the activists he trained ended up using PGP, because it was too hard to use. We feel we've made huge strides in usability with our Martus design without compromising security. But, we thought the only way to make it sufficiently secure was to create a standalone application, with separate servers isolated from the users so that they don't run the risk of possibly having access to the user's secrets.

We know that much more needs to be done to make these tools more user-friendly. We know the Cryptocat team is working hard on a new generation of their tool which will try to overcome the weaknesses in the current version, and we welcome their efforts. We want to make sure that security doesn't suffer when it comes to serving those at greatest threat from repressive governments.  At this point, we believe that the risks of straight web-based solutions are too high to recommend them to activists and dissidents who run personal safety risks in their work.