Massimo Banzi: Fighting for Arduino

Massimo Banzi

Massimo Banzi is the co-founder of the Arduino project. He is an Interaction Designer, Educator and Open Source Hardware advocate.

238 Articles

By Massimo Banzi

Massimo Banzi is the co-founder of the Arduino project. He is an Interaction Designer, Educator and Open Source Hardware advocate.

238 Articles

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The Arduino founders in earlier times

Massimo Banzi tells us about a serious rift in the core Arduino team, which is just coming to light now. One of the founding team members has gone off on his own, claiming rights to Arduino and starting a separate operation. We asked Massimo to explain the situation in his own words. —Dale Dougherty

 

This situation has been brewing within Arduino for a long time.

When the Arduino project started, the five co-founders (myself, David Cuartielles, David Mellis, Tom Igoe, and Gianluca Martino) decided to create a company that would own the trademarks and manage the business side of Arduino: Manufacturers would build and sell boards, Arduino would get a royalty from them like in many other businesses, such as in the fashion world. This happened in April 2008 when Arduino LLC was founded and the bylaws of the company specified that each of the five founders would transfer to this company any ownership of the Arduino brand. At the end of 2008 when Arduino was about to register the trademark in the US and worldwide, unknown to us and without any advance notice, Gianluca’s company Smart Projects — our main boards manufacturer — went ahead and registered the Arduino name in Italy and kept this news for himself for almost two years.

After the process of registering in the US was over and our lawyer tried to extend the trademark to the rest of the world, he realised that somebody had registered it already in Italy. We (Tom, David, David, and I) were shocked and demanded explanations. Gianluca reassured us that this was done to protect our collective investment. We were friends (or so we thought), so based on this agreement we kept working together for years, received royalties while quietly trying to bring the trademark back into the Arduino company through endless discussions that dragged on while Arduino became very successful thanks to the hard work each one of us put into it (and for a long time we didn’t even get a salary out of it).

As the project became more successful and sales increased, the attempts at regaining control of the Italian trademark registration became more and more difficult with larger and larger demands made to us while Gianluca effectively vetoed us from either bringing in other manufacturers or get any external investment. We made headway with Arduino creating a lot of innovation, pushing the boundaries of open source hardware, hiring a lot of talented people around the world and ultimately building an amazing community around the arduino.cc website.

Needless to say, it became increasingly difficult to work with a partner that was so reluctant to allow any significant improvement and expansion of the company. We tried for a long time to reduce the cost of products to customers but our hands were tied. Last July after another round of talks, and yet another increasing request for money, we were forced to ask our lawyers to start sending his companies letters to outline our differences and request that the trademark be returned to us. When you believe you’re talking to a friend of many years, it’s hard to deal with this. It’s saddening and heartbreaking, especially for me having spent many years speaking to this person every day for hours on the phone or in person to make Arduino what it is.

A year ago without explanation, Gianluca’s manufacturing company stopped cooperating with us and unilaterally stopped paying royalties. So if people bought an Arduino board made in Italy in the last year thinking they were supporting the project they should know that we didn’t receive any money for it despite the fact that we designed, documented, maintained and supported those products. (The other manufacturers are still by our side.)

Last November, SmartProjects appointed a new CEO, Mr. Musto, who renamed the company to Arduino Srl and created a website called “Arduino” copying our graphics and layout, claiming to have invented Arduino with no mention of us four. They even started printing this new URL on all the new boards.

The last straw came a few weeks ago when this person gave interviews to a number of Italian newspapers claiming to be the new CEO of “Arduino” and implying that I was stepping down to dedicate myself to “non profit” activities.

We were shocked and responded to their claims trying to keep the noise to the minimum and avoid damaging the community and the project.

Now the matters are in the hands of lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic and I can’t go too much into details.

For us original four it’s business as usual. Luckily, three years ago, I started expanding the ways in which Arduino supports itself: working with large corporations to advise them on how to build for the maker community, participating in international research projects, running a very successful online store. This allowed us to grow independently of board sales.

I had this realisation that as hardware becomes more and more of a commodity, business models must evolve towards services, cloud platforms, education, and the whole process of helping makers become pros.

We are working with manufacturers across the globe, we have amazing partners who are on our side, we’re launching new exciting products in the fields of education and IoT. We are very saddened that these issues have been made public to confuse the community but we keep innovating and we want to continue push the boundaries of open hardware like we have been doing for 10 years.

As usual the only real home of the Arduino community is arduino.cc and you can see on day.arduino.cc that the upcoming Arduino Day on March 28 is going to be an amazing global event during which we’re going to unveil a lot of cool stuff.