Fear and Loathing In the App Store 21 - Oracle Owns JavaScript and Apple Pulls App
Written by Ian Elliot   
Wednesday, 18 April 2018

It shouldn't come as a shock that Oracle owns the trademark on the term "JavaScript", but it seems to. A recent incident, Apple pulling an app because it has "JavaScript" in its name, has sparked heated discussion.


A post to Reddit is the only report we have of Apple's action, but it seems entirely possible:

Just received this email from Apple about my app(Html, css, javascript snippet editor). Looks like you can't use "Javascript" because Oracle owns it!

Anyone has any idea how to fight it or just give up?

"As you are likely aware, Oracle owns US Trademark Registration No. 2416017 for JAVASCRIPT. The seller of this iTunes app prominently displays JAVASCRIPT without authorization from our client. The unauthorized display of our client's intellectual property is likely to cause consumers encountering this app to mistakenly believe that it emanates from, or is provided under a license from, Oracle. Use of our client's trademark in such a manner constitutes trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A). In order to prevent further consumer confusion and infringement of our client's intellectual property rights, we request that you immediately disable access to this app. We look forward to your confirmation that you have complied with this request."

The first thing to look into is how did this come about?

I've summed the situation up in Just JavaScript, my about-to-be-published book, 

Initially the language was called Mocha and it was implemented in just ten days - an amazing feat and admittedly one that probably resulted in some bad choices that we have been putting up with for a long time.

The final thing that the NetScape bosses did to confuse the issue was to change the name from Mocha, which had an implied coffee and Java reference, to LiveScript and then finally to JavaScript, with a more than obvious reference. This is a very sad choice because JavaScript has nothing much to do with Java and it is so much more than a Scripting language.

It also creates a problem about what we call JavaScript to this day. Back in the day when Java was new and was the property of Sun, the name JavaScript was registered as a trademark along with lots of Java related names:

. . .
. . .

When Oracle took over Sun it acquired the trademark and this is the reason why, when Ecma International (formerly European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) got involved in standardizing JavaScript, it decided to not risk using JavaScript and called the language ECMAScript instead, so confusing everyone in the process. To this day beginners are puzzled by the JavaScript/ECMAScript split. It really wasn’t a good move in the first place to use a name for a language that was trademarked by someone else.

So we are stuck with the name ECMAScript because Oracle owns the JavaScipt trademark. For the record, ECMAScript is also trademarked by ECMA. It seems that "JavaScript" was licenced to NetScape and on to Mozilla, but in principle Oracle can stop us all using the term.

Almost two decades ago even Mozilla was worried about the situation and considered removing "JavaScript" from all its code and documentation. It isn't clear if this issue was ever resolved. Brendan Eich commented on the matter as a bug report 18 years ago:

"I'd be happy to reassign this to a trademark lawyer, but clayton should own it for now, because he does know of some deal (maybe it's defunct now) whereby Sun grants use of "JavaScript" as a mark, based on compliance or possibly even use of Mozilla JS code.
BTW, "ECMAScript" is not the right name for Mozilla's JS1.x language. If we had to purge "JavaScript", we would do better to use "JS" (and no "JScript" jokes please!). Anyway, ECMAScript was chosen as a political compromise, to be ugly enough (it sounds like a skin disease) that no one would use it in a product."

So if you are in the habit of making the ECMAScript skin disease jokes just remember that Eich got there first.

Given Oracle's reputation for making a profit it is difficult to see why it doesn't make more of its rights.

Perhaps one reason is the outcry that would follow if it did.

The loss would probably far outweigh any gain. But, returning to Apple, why is Apple enforcing a trademark that most of us use without too much worry? A quick search reveals lots of apps with the word JavaScript in their titles in the Google Play Store, lots in the Amazon app store and in Microsoft's app store.

Here we can start the rumor mill grinding - because we really have no firm information about what is going on. Oracle's boss Larry Ellison was great friends with Apple's Steve Jobs and even today it is speculated that Oracle's lawsuit with Google is also about helping Apple out with a competitor. Can we believe that Apple will go the extra mile to enforce a trademark that Oracle doesn't seem that fussed about?

It could be that this is an example of algorithmic error. Apple has a rule about trademarks and applies it with no exceptions, even if it results in an anomalous situation. This seems far more likely, but is it any better?

I remember a day when bits were free and we wrote what we liked. Yes it was the Wild West and it was a frontier, but there was more justice than the current lynch mob mentality of the app stores.

For what ever reason an app has been bounced out of the store and the programmer is helpless to do anything about it other than to try to conform.


More Information

Oracle Owns "Javascript", so Apple is taking down my app!


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 April 2018 )