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The Story Behind the Photometrica Name Change

Posted by SXN on February 7, 2011 - 2:50am

Some of you may have noticed that we changed the name of the Photometrica software and are wondering what happened. Others are asking, what is Photometrica software? No worries, I have all the answers for you. 

 
Geir Klingenberg, of Norway, developed the software formerly known as Photometrica. It is an amazing and powerful suite of tools for performing several tasks to derive photometric reductions from CCD images. It will plate solve the images, do analysis of the star profiles, import data sets and label them on the images, such as GCVS variables or AAVSO comp star photometry, it will derive magnitudes, calculate errors and produce reports in AAVSO format ready for uploading to WebObs.
 
One of the important features of the software is that it is hosted on servers in the amazon cloud environment. This means that it is always available in its current form without having to purchase or continually update the software. All you need is an account providing you access to the server and you can take advantage of the power of the applications.
 
Originally, it was promoted as an additional benefit for Global Rent A Scope customers who wanted to do science with their images. Geir eventually partnered with Michael Kran to form a non-profit organization with the intent of distributing and using the software for educational purposes. Partnering cloud-based software with inexpensive robotic telescopes had potential for bringing science to under-developed or underserved populations.
 
Developing and promoting non-profit educational programs is very difficult, so Geir and Michael began looking for other possibilities. Pairing Photometrica with AAVSO seemed a good fit. Arne loved the program. He said, “If I were to develop a software bundle to do photometry, this would be it.”
 
So arrangements were made for Geir and Michael to demonstrate the software to the AAVSO membership at the AAVSO Fall meeting. After that meeting, Geir, Michael Kran, Arne Henden, Mike Simonsen, Donn Starkey, Ken Mogul and Doc Kinne met at AAVSO headquarters to discuss handing over the rights to the software to the AAVSO. The logistics of making the transfer and hosting it on the Amazon cloud server with AAVSO paying for bandwidth was discussed and a timetable for making the transition was outlined. Donn and Ken each made generous donations to pay for the web hosting that covered the cost for the first two years or more.
 
Besides the effort required to launch and host it on Amazon, we needed to integrate the uploading of files to the Photometrica server from AAVSOnet. Doc and Geir collaborated on that for the next few months.
 
We also knew we inherited some nagging legal issues that had remained unresolved. We needed a click through user agreement of some sort to protect the AAVSO from being liable for lost files or time, and there was the possibility of a trademark infringement because there was a Canadian company that had registered the name Photometrica for a commercial software package sold by them.
 
Michael Kran had retained an attorney to help him create the user agreement and to investigate the options available to him to avoid trademark litigation. After some discussion with Michael and this attorney we agreed to pay the application fee to try to trademark the name Photometrica for the AAVSO. We were told this could take from six months to a year.
 
In the meantime, file upload was implemented, the software was running on the cloud, more users were taking advantage of it and a new users group was launched on Google to give support, discuss tips and tricks and to advise and answer questions. The software was touted as a new membership benefit and things seemed to be going along just fine. 
 
Then, in October 2010, we received notice from the attorneys representing the Canadian company that they considered our use of the name improper and illegal and asked us to cease and desist using the name. We asked to be given special consideration due to our non-profit status, the fact that we were not generating income from the sale or use of the product, and that we had plans to use it for educational purposes. Their attorney presented our request to his clients, who after a short consideration declined and insisted that we change the name to something dissimilar in all our online and print media.
 
We agreed to comply without any hesitation and began to think about a new name for the software. It wasn’t a major priority; it’s just a name. Not being sued was a priority and we were given 90 days to make the change to the name and our media. Based on the fact that all our new tools have an acronym scheme beginning with the letter ‘v’, (VSD, VSP, VSX, VSA, etc.) we tried to find another acronym beginning with the letter ‘v’. After trying dozens of combinations, only to find these were already being used by other groups or businesses for one thing or another, we eventually settled on the acronym VPHOT, for Variable star PHOtometry Tools.
 
Some people say V-fote, other say V-fot, but I’ve actually come to like the pronunciation V-P-hot. You can use whatever you like; it’s just a name.
 
The necessary changes were made to dozens of documents and web pages and notice was sent in early January that we had complied with the wishes of the trademark holder. On February 1, 2011 we received confirmation from the attorney representing the trademark holder that this is the end of the matter and there will be no action taken against the AAVSO. 
 
VPHOT remains the excellent software it was before and is being improved incrementally all the time. AAVSO members can upload images from their own telescopes to the server and AAVSOnet observations can be automatically uploaded to VPHOT as they are processed, ready for observers to extract the photometry of their program stars. 
 
To learn more or check it our for yourself, go to http://www.aavso.org/vphot
 
AAVSO 49 Bay State Rd. Cambridge, MA 02138 aavso@aavso.org 617-354-0484