Wednesday, 12 April 2017


Earlier this week I was in a twitter conversation stemming from the age old debates around terms and naming of spaces (makerspaces hackspaces, hackerspaces, fablab, innovation spaces etc) and what they mean to different parts of maker culture in terms of openness. During this I discovered that a UK company Gratnells had applied for a UK and Europe trademark on "Makerspace".

I obviously felt strongly that this was not a good move for the maker communities which include many vol orgs, public sector, education and companies that widely use this term. So I began to challenge it. I'm writing this blog to state what actions I took, what others did and the outcomes, in case this needs to happen again. Although (as I'll reveal later in the post) the outcome of this episode was positive, I'm not saying that this forms a recipe for successfully challenging this stuff... it's just what I did and I present most of it without comment..

So firstly.. I remained polite and questioned publicly on twitter why Gratnells were trying to trademark this term and used some hashtags to try and get maker accounts to share this. I felt it was important to set the tone of this tweet as stern and concerned but not aggressive. (I think us passionate maker types can be a bit prone to grumpy swipes ...certainly true of me at times) 

I also behind the scenes Direct Messaged (DM'd) a group of key people who actively tweet stuff relating to Makers to try and build awareness that there might be an issue. Lots of retweets then occurred and people started talking to me in DM about this.

Interestingly in the space of an hour I had been put in contact with 2 Intellectual Property (IP) specialists and had offers for connections to others.

I also (again behind the scenes) contacted 4 larger companies who Gratnells supply too.. Now.. I did this as the companies are companies who have supported and financially sponsored different maker events I felt that they needed fair warning that this situation might result in some conflict between the communities and them down the line...and obviously I am keen to see companies continue to sponsor stuff!  

Interestingly I also got contacted by 3 university based innovation spaces I have contact with from around the UK who were asking to be kept in the loop and also 2 of which wanted my opinion on whether the trademark would effect their usage of the term makerspace in their branding. This was of note to me in terms of the origin of this whole issue was in a debate around the usage of the term an access to spaces for different parts of the community.

So by the end of the day Gratnells responded to my tweet and stated they would not be defending the trademark and would issue a statement on their website the flowing day.. which they duly did here.

Finally it seemed prudent (and was advised) to archive the Gratnells response page and related tweets in case they are removed in the future which has been done and indeed I've got a few people involved to do this as well for redundancy.
So there we go... MakerspaceGate.. It throws up some interesting points for the global maker culture about protecting our assets and as ever about openness and the naming of spaces. I was heartened to see that Gratnells responded to this promptly and in good faith and I am now quite enamoured with Gratnells storage solutions which still remain available from many maker supporting businesses!

So Hackaday have picked up on the story (interestingly they were tagged in on twitter but didn't respond or get involved but then someone submitted the story to them via the tips channel) Their post is here. Also the mighty Marc Barto has blogged citing some of the options we might have had to take had Gratnells not de-escalated their position as quickly. Marcs post here.

Props to @chickengrylls @carwynedwards @iamclarec @marcbarto for really getting stuck in and networking me into people who might have helped had this gone further... top stuff. 

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