Meta Data, meta-data, metadata

Subject: Meta Data, meta-data, metadata
From: Warren_Singer -at- vocaltec -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2000 10:26:05 +0200

Our company had a similar problem, with one of our product names:
"VocalTec Ensemble Architecture". The word "Ensemble" was trademarked to
one of our customers and their lawyers requested that we stop using this

>From the legal perspective, the issues are as follows:
- Normally when a company officially trademarks a name, there is a 6 month
period of appeal, in which any company can contest against the use of this
trademark. If your lawyers did not appeal the court's decision, then you
loose your rights to the trademark.
- Usually, the use of generic terms cannot be trademarked, or if they are
trademarked, it can be difficult to uphold this in court. For example, our
company had the original trademark for the term "Internet Phone". However,
when hundreds of small companies started using this term in a generic
fashion, it didn't pay the company to pursue this matter in the courts.
- What is also important from a legal perspective, is whether or not the
other company that uses the term is a competitor or competes in the same
field. If this is the case, then they could argue that your using their
trademark is directly impinging on their business.
- Finally, the most important point is for your legal council to meet
with the legal representatives of the other company, and try to negotiate
an amicable settlement. This buys you time. You could agree on a
transition period of several months, during which the contested word can
be phrased out of your literature. Another alternative is to actually
"purchase" the use of the word from the company. In other words, you
continue to use the trademarked name in your literature, but agree to pay
a specific fee. This may work out cheaper than replacing the name
throughout your literature.
- If nothing else works, then changing a term to a generic term would be
the solution.

Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find names
that are not trademarked to another company. At some point along the line,
many of us will be required to change product names that appear throughout
our company literature.

Emru Townsend, Information Developer | etownsen -at- softimage -dot- com
Softimage, Inc.
Personal page:
Recent musings:
Subject: Meta Data, meta-data, metadata?
From: skocher -at- mindspring -dot- com
Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2000 10:24:16 -0500
Reply-To: skocher -at- mindspring -dot- com

Hi all,
Just to take your minds off poor ballot design and election frustrations
for a moment. This is an issue I am dealing with that is causing a lot of
strife among writers, editors and developers in my workplace. The question
is whether to continue using the term metadata in our documentation and in
component names, or to switch to meta data (generic) and Meta Data (as
part of a proper noun). The latter would have huge repercussions on our
future doc, legacy doc, and software interface. We're talking about a lot
of changes, thousands in the doc and a few in the product interfaces--and
I for one don't want to be too hasty about it in case we decide later it
was a premature decision and then have to go back and change everything

At issue is the trademark claim to the term Metadata by a company in
California called Metadata Company. Web site here:
Apparently they have sent legal letters to both Microsoft and to the
Metadata Coalition--now the Meta Data Coalition. You can see from more
recent web pages from both these entities that they are taking the legal
letters seriously.

More Background:
Most of us have seen the term "metadata" in use everywhere, lowercased
when referring to the generic sense of the term, and with an initial cap
with incorporated into product and component names. Dictionaries such as
ZDWebopedia define it like this:

metadata: Data about data. Metadata describes how and when and by whom a
particular set of data was collected, and how the data is formatted.
Metadata is essential for understanding information stored in data

But FOLDOC buys into a different definition:
Metadata (Note: One unhyphenated word with initial capital; contrast meta
data) A word coined by Jack E. Myers to represent current and future lines
of products implementing the concepts of his MetaModel, and also to
designate his company The Metadata Company that would develop and market
those products.

A data and publication search performed when Myers coined the term, early
in the summer of 1969, did not discover any use either of the word
"metadata" or "meta data". Myers used the term in a 1973 product brochure
and it is an Incontestable registered U.S. Trademark.

meta-data or meta data: Data about data. In data processing, meta-data is
definitional data that provides information about or documentation of
other data managed within an application or environment.

Legal resources say it's not a big risk and we (software developers vs.
doc developers) are making too much ado about nothing. It is also not
clear whether the trademark claims can be applied only to proper nouns or
to the generic lowercased "metadata" as well. Microsoft and Meta Data
Coalition appear to be applying the two-word standard across the board, if
not for legal reasons, then for consistency. It's all a bummer, of course,
because meta is a prefix, not a word, and it looks pretty ridiculous to
split the word. It also looks stupid to hyphenate it, as some are doing.

Me, I would compromise if necessary by continuing to refer to generic
metadata, and changing proper nouns to two words, OK as long as we apply
that rule consistently. One is generic, the other is a name. Others (not
involved in documentation, not understanding what such a change would
entail, and perhaps assuming that our concerns are trivial and anal
retentive) argue that it should be two words everywhere, from now
on--leaving legacy doc as it is (and of course creating consistency issues

One reason I am not eager to endorse the change is that I understand a
trademark owner has to prove that it seriously and consistently fought to
protect its trademark--failure to do so has cost companies like Kleenex
and Band-Aid their right to sole use of their trademark. And Metadata Co.
appears to have started defending their TM only in the past couple of

years, though the trademark has been in place for 9 years and in use by
them for longer.

I wonder if they would lose in court to a serious challenge--but it seems
Microsoft and others choose not to fight it and now have silly looking and
inconsistent use of the term in their doc.

What do you all think? Have any of you run across this issue?

Warren Singer
VocalTec Communications Ltd.
Phone: (direct) 972-9-9707773
Fax: 972-9-951-5307
Email: warren_singer -at- vocaltec -dot- com

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