Arduino Wars: Group Splits, Competing Products Revealed?

Arduino Wars: Group Splits, Competing Products Revealed?
The Arduino Zero Pro from (left) and the Arduino Zero from (right)


(Editor note: Arduino’s Massimo Banzi has supplied us with his direct information about the Arduino rift. Read his note here)

There’s nothing worse than when a family starts fighting amongst itself. If only because, after years being cooped up for weeks at time during the Christmas vacations, you know exactly where to cause the maximum amount of damage.

Right now Arduino LLC—the company founded by Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, David Mellis, Tom Igoe and Gianluca Martino back in 2009—is suing Arduino Srl founded by Gianluca Martino.

The second Arduino, Arduino Srl that is, was originally named Smart Projects Srl and was responsible for manufacturing the Arduino boards in Italy. While the first Arduino, Arduino LLC, is the company we’re more familiar with, responsible for development of the boards, management of the open source projects surrounding it, and the community.

However disagreements last year about the direction of the Arduino brand between Martino and the four other co-founders led to Martino taking on Federico Musto as the new CEO of Smart Projects and renaming the company Arduino Srl.

The Arduino board itself is open source—one of the earliest decisions made by the group behind the board was to release the design files. Anyone can make an Arduino compatible board, or even an exact copy of the board. However the Arduino name, logo and graphics are protected by trademark which, while it hasn’t stopped the flow of cheap counterfeit boards, has at least meant that if you saw a board with the Arduino logo on you could be fairly sure of its provenance.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. It’s difficult to determine what actually happened or is still happening, but right now we have the site we’re familiar with, the home of Arduino LLC, alongside, a site created by the new Arduino Srl. Both use the same trade dress, logo, names, fonts—they even (mostly) call their products the same thing. At least at the moment, and at least to outsiders, there are two companies claiming to be “Arduino” and it’s rather hard to tell the difference.

Talking to la Repubblica back in November last year—when Musto was hired to lead Arduino Srl—Massimo Banzi  said “E’ surreale quel che sta accadendo…”  which, at least as close as my rusty Italian can make out, means that he thinks the entire situation is surreal, and really, who can blame him?

Right now the whole problem is sitting before the First Circuit and a Massachusetts District Court where Arduino LLC is suing Arduino Srl and co-defendants for trademark infringement.

Against this background is the quiet release by Arduino Srl, rather than Arduino LLC, of the long awaited Arduino Zero.

Announced at Makercon last year the Arduino Zero represents the future for Arduino. While it shares the same form factor as the older boards it is powered by a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+ core, and is significantly faster than the traditional 8-bit Arduino, as well as being much more capable.

While the site still isn’t listing the Arduino Zero as available, the site has an updated product page for an ‘Arduino Zero Pro’ advertising that it is available now—although after looking I couldn’t find anyone with stock, or anyone that claimed they would have stock, at least not amongst the usual suspects. However it might well just be a matter of time before stock of the board starts to become available.

The site is offering two new products. The Arduino Zero Pro is 'available now' while the Yún Mini will be available at the end of April.
The site is offering two new products. The Arduino Zero Pro is ‘available now’ while the Yún Mini will be available at the end of April.

Interestingly as well as the new Arduino Zero Pro there is another new product—one we haven’t seen on the Arduino roadmap before—the Arduino Yún Mini.

All we know right now is that this new board will be available from the end of April. However, and perhaps somewhat tellingly to those that are familiar with the background behind the situation, the new Arduino Yún Mini looks awfully like the Linino One board with a different silk screen. While it’s possible that the design of the new Yún Mini is based on the Linino One, it’s equally possible that it might well just be the Linino board in a fetching shade of blue. Either way, we should find out soon.

All in all the whole situation is fraught with difficulties and murky at best. I’m certainly not going to be the only person in the maker community that’s awaiting the decision by the First Circuit with some degree of concern. Because there really is only one thing that we know for sure about this mess, that whatever happens it’s not going to be good for the community that’s grown up around the Arduino—the community that’s turned the Arduino from a humble micro-controller board into something that’s part of the permanent collection at the MOMA.

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Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker and tinkerer, who is spending a lot of his time thinking about the Internet of Things. In the past he has mesh networked the Moscone Center, caused a U.S. Senate hearing, and contributed to the detection of what was—at the time—the most distant object yet discovered.

View more articles by Alasdair Allan