Today I write with a thought-provoking question: Just who owns the trademark rights to Telsa/SpaceX’s Spaceman Roadster? Tesla? SpaceX? Perhaps even humanity?

If you didn’t catch it, SpaceX recently launched its first Falcon Heavy three-booster rocket designed to carry large payloads into space. In a stunning feat of engineering and genius marketing, the rocket sent SpaceX CEO (and Telsa CEO) Elon Musk‘s Tesla Roadster toward the Sun (where it will orbit for billions of years), all while returning two of the three boosters to the same location from which the rocket departed.

It might seem incredible to believe, but the NASA-defined space object “Tesla Roadster (AKA: Starman, 2018-017A)” is now traveling away from the Earth on its trajectory to the Sun. You can track the object using NASA’s HORIZONS system and even watch a live feed from its on-board cameras.

Yes, these are real pictures: credit, credit.

If you haven’t seen the launch and booster touch down, now is the time; it is truly awe-inspiring and one of the biggest feats of the decade. It may also be the most ambitious marketing promotion for a product and service (the Falcon Heavy) ever, establishing both Tesla and SpaceX as innovative, intelligent, and forward-thinking brands. And that gets me thinking: Spaceman (or some similar description), as a potential name, symbol, or device, could constitute a trademark. But because two separate companies, Tesla and SpaceX, are involved in launching the car into space, just who has a right to the mark? And does Spaceman itself operate as a mark identifying either company as its source?

The answer could hinge on whether either company decides to use the mark to designate itself as the source of certain goods or Spaceman, for that matter. The primary purpose behind trademark protection is to reduce information and transaction costs, while protecting investment in the creation and promotion of marks that do just that. Thus, a fundamental inquiry in trademark infringement cases is whether use of a mark causes consumer confusion as to the source of a good or service. So far, both companies have touted the Falcon Heavy achievement. But Spaceman itself does not clearly indicate one source over the other. Of course, the Roadster identifies Tesla as its source, but the rocket on which it is affixed designates SpaceX as the means for its position in space. Maybe that is enough of a distinction to make the mark part Tesla and part SpaceX.

I would like to believe that both companies’ CEO, Elon Musk, would think of Spaceman not as a symbol of either business, but rather a symbol of human achievement and what is to come. Indeed, both companies have grand visions for humanity. SpaceX’s mission is “to enable humans to become a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species.” Telsa is purposed on “accelerat[ing] the transition to a sustainable energy future.” To any other-worldly being, Spaceman itself identifies Earth and its people as its source. In this way, Spaceman is similar to other satellites within the solar system, which identify Earth as progenitor. Perhaps, then, it is fair to say that we all have a stake in the symbol. What do you think?



Here is a fun fact; Facebook is or was based on cloud computing.  Cloud computing consists of three types of computing services:  (1) software as a service; (2) platform as a service; and (3) infrastructure as a service.  Facebook used’s EC2 platform to build its social network website.  A computer platform is the computing environment that consists of is some sort of hardware architecture and software framework (including application frameworks) that allow software to run.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said that cloud computing is heavily dependent on open source software and that 90 percent of today’s clouds leverage open source software.  For consumers of software as a service, the existence of open source software in a software program is not an issue because the customer is not receiving a license to create a derivative work of the computer code.  However, for the customers (like Facebook) that use platform as a service, the existence of open source software can be a real issue.  For a software program to work within a particular computing environment, some linking of the program with the environment is necessary.  Depending upon how the software program links with the environment could subject the software program to whatever open source software licenses govern the environment. 

Open source software licenses vary from the mundane requirement that certain notices appear in the code to the extreme requirement of making the source code for the software program available to the public.  Having to make your source code available to the public is a harsh consequence simply because you utilized another party’s computer platform.  So those cloud computing customers that will utilize platform as a service need to add another question to their list of questions when kicking the tires of a cloud computing company.