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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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earlier posts

Trademarking a phrase?

Matt Yglesias calls attention to the story about a basketball player who has "trademarked" his eyebrows that are connected, leaving no empty spot above his nose link here.

Actually he seems to have trademarked the use of "unibrow" in several catch phrases. Davis told CNBC that he trademarked the phrases "Fear The Brow" and "Raise The Brow" earlier this month. "I don't want anyone to try to grow a unibrow because of me and I'll say it: Fear the brow!"

Matt adds, "Of course having a unibrow is not, in fact, unique; it's just somewhat unusual. Meanwhile, it turns out that five games into his remarkable run last season, the D.C. law firm Arent Fox swooped in to help Jeremy Lin trademark the phrase Linsanity. "

How can we top this nonsense? I am guessing it will happen soon.

Ridiculous patent applications

I first saw this story when it appeared on Matt Yglesias Moneybox blog on May 22. It has since been taken down, but you can Google the subject ("Oklahoma State University tries to patent a steak") and see that similar stories have been picked up by a lot of echoes.

Originally Matt Yglesias was joining the rest of us who cite ridiculous examples of patents and copyrights. In this one, he found that Oklahoma State University had applied for a patent on a cut of steak, or more exactly, how it is butchered.

It is not clear whether the patent will be denied, but one can no longer be sure. As Matt asks, how would this not be like other business or software patents? Such stretches have not proved beyond the capacity of the Patent and Trademark office to overcome its renowned reluctance to seek fees and constituent support.

But the thought also occurred to me that the University is enjoying so much publicity that it should continue its application or appeal any adverse finding just for the public attention.

You can trademark red soled shoes?

I missed one IP story in this issue of The Economist. Louboutin is suing Yves Saint Laurent for infringing it trademark by producing high-end women's shoes with red soles link here.

The extremes of IP law keep getting nuttier and nuttier. What shade of red is it trying to copyright? Would pink cross the line? How about reddish purple? Anyway, sue and YSL may just fold its tent and go away.

Patent Office: Part of the growth in the regulatory burden

Mike Konczal examines whether the burden of government regulation has gotten worse, sees that in aggregate it has, and then digs down to find that it is due almost entirely to the activities of Homeland Security link here. Irrelevant for a blog on IP you will say. But wait.

In the end he notes that "One of the biggest winners over the past 9 years was the Patent and Trademark Office, which went from 6,128 employees to 10,098 employees." His comment on that: "Given how much patents are used to shut down competition and let the largest companies rent-seek, this is probably the anti-growth part I would flag. For those who know it better, is it a symptom of court decisions? Are they playing catch-up to industry demands?"

IP for crafts comes to Vietnam

The fascination with declaring intellectual efforts as property begins to captivate the developing world. This story comes from Vietnam where "Viet Nam has 2,790 traditional craft villages nationwide, according to the Viet Nam Association of Craft Villages link here. But the number of craft villages which have registered their industrial property rights, I can count on two hands," said association deputy chairman Luu Duy Dan. Fewer "than 100 out of the 800 specialties are protected by intellectual property rights laws like trademark protection, collective brand names and geographical indication protection."

Unfortunately, the Vietnamese government doesn't seem to have thought about how IP has come to be and whether it serves legitimate public interests. Thus, the monopolists continue to try to spread their tentacles.

Trademarking the Web

Steve Lohr writes that trademarking is being steadily expanded to the web link here. "For the empirical proof, look at the filings with the government for new trademarks that, put simply, are brand names," he writes. "It lies beyond putting trademarks on new businesses, Web site addresses and online logos. Now, companies want to slap a brand on still vaguely defined products and services in the uncharted ephemera of cyberspace the computing cloud, as it has come to be known."

Lohr provides several examples. Dell tried to trademark Cloud Computing and now Microsoft is trying something with the phrase Live together with another word, like Mesh, as if Live somehow made the phrase unique.

This attempt to extend the reach of trademark has not gone unopposed, since it is clearly an attempt to extend monopoly into new areas.

The death of software patents??

Something seems to be cooking in software patents, hopefully important news. However, it is a bit early to cheer, as big interests are engaged.

The source of the excitement is that the Patent and Trademark Office seems likely to declare software patents invalid if the expressed PTO view prevails. You can start reading the bare bones of the story here. Then go to the referenced post for a more detailed legal view link here .

The logic is that software patents ought to go. But remember as you cheer that there is a legal and a political process to be worked through and that ain't bean bag.

"Naked Cowboy" sues Mars M&Ms for trademark violation

You have probably never heard of the Naked Cowboy who parades around the streets of New York in his underpants, cowboy boots and hat, playing a guitar and singing. You should because it once again demonstrates the absurdity of IP law. The Mars candy people and its ad agency created billboards featuring a naked cowboy link here and here. He sued for invasion of privacy and breach of his trademark. A New York court has thrown out the privacy charge, which seems almost logical, since the cowboy's strutting is clearly not private. Some such "street artists" might even pay for the publicity.

But the trademark invasion remains to be adjudicated. Trial is set for high noon on July 11. I'll bet you can't wait to hear how it turns out. You can read the 23 page opinion link here.link here

T-mobile hearts magenta (ugh)

Stephen Spear's post yesterday link here reminded me that I had started saving up ridiculous patent, copyright, and trademark stories. I'm not sure repeating these stories changes opinion since the basic rationale for IP protection, that it promotes innovation, is firmly embedded in popular thinking and assiduously promoted by the IP lawyers and owners. But it should, particularly when the legal process can't distinguish what is significant from the absurd.

Anyway, here is the story: T-mobile is demanding that gadget blog site Engadget Mobile stop using magenta in its logo on the grounds that it will confuse customers link here. This is a repeat of a suit that T-mobile brought last year against my-favorite-book.com, a book-on-demand-publisher launched in Germany last May link here. That was a particularly outrageous suit because my-favorite-book varies the color from one ad to another. Neither defendant appears to have stopped using the color.

How do we account for this loss of sense among the plaintiffs? Are they underemployed lawyers who need the fees? Or do they expect the defendant to back down out of fear of the publicity or unwillingness to risk the costs of a court battle? Assuming the case gets to court, why don't judges fine the plantiffs for bringing niggling charges?

Maybe we should have a contest for the worst example.

It takes a lawyer or more to catch one

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum at the Washington Post begins, "Trial lawyers sue each other all the time. Now they are suing each other over what to call themselves." The story goes on link here; the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) decided that it was poor PR to keep the distrusted term, trial lawyer, in the title and rechristened themselves as the American Association for Justice (AAJ). Another group of lawyers formed a competing group, the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA). AAJ then went to court, arguing the new group's name confused people and violated its trademark on the ATLA acronym. How can you trademark an acronym?

Then a third group, the American College of Trial Lawyers, sued, arguing that the name would confuse people with it. If you are confused as to who has the best case, hire a trial lawyer. It is nice to see them taking each other's money. And making current IP law look ridiculous.

earlier posts


   

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French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

Copyright batte over 'unauthorized' Catcher in the Rye commentary 1

Copyright batte over 'unauthorized' Catcher in the Rye commentary 1