Re: trademarks

Subject: Re: trademarks
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 14:56:14 -0500

> I find the discussion of trademarks interesting. I have always
>assumed that it was the duty of the company to use a trademark symbol to
>notify others that the name is propietary, and it was the obligation of
>writers to capitalize such terms (e.g. Zip Drive, not zip drive) in
>of the fact that term is the name of a product (a proper noun). I write
>textbooks and my publisher wants me to use trademark symbols, though I
>see why.

It's a courtesy. It's the obligation of the trademark holder to defend it,
not yours. Many publishers, however, are worried that they'll be sued over
some infringement, imagined or otherwise. Given the litigious nature of
Americans, I'm not sure they're wrong. It's just best to be sure.

The basic intent of a trademark is to give the holder the benefit of the
good will, time, and money that's been invested in it as a marker for his
goods. It's remotely possible that an argument could be made that using a
trademarked name in a book was tantamount to a claim that the trademark
holder recommended the book. Practically speaking, though, I'd doubt that
even the feeblest-minded reader could conclude that nowadays.

Strictly speaking, trademarks are all most successful companies have to
market. IBM may sell computer equipment, but it's the IBM marker on them
that make them attractive, not the intrinsic superiority of the equipment
itself. Ditto with Dilbert books and Sony televisions. Most savvy companies
realize how much they owe to their trademarks. In fact, many business
managers have said that if their companies went belly-up, they'd rather walk
away with the trademarks than the physical plants. You can borrow money to
set up equipment, but a trademark gets value only with the passage of time.

> By the way, can anyone clarify for me the significance of TM. I
>have read that it means that the product name "may be registered on the
>state level." That seems awfully vague to me.

It means that the holder is claiming trademark usage within his own state,
and not across state lines. If he wants federal or international protection,
he's got to register it with the federal government's patents and trademarks
office. In the latter case, he gets an (R) to put on it, rather than the
lesser (TM). There are many cases in which a local company has long since
put down roots with names like McDonald's or Jeep and then successfully
weathered infringement suits from late-comer corporations, but only within
one state. There's a case like that coming to my town, where Good Earth is
the name of a health food store, and a national chain called Good Earth is
rumored to be moving in. If the local Good Earth folks are smart, they'll
immediately register their name locally, giving them a good chance at being
able to use it even after the big boys hit town.

Strictly speaking, BTW, McDonald's isn't a trademark at all, but a service
mark. Most of us don't need to acknowledge service marks in documentation,
but service marks are every bit as valuable and worthy of protection at
trademarks. If you open your own tech doc firm and want to register your
name, it'll be a service mark, not a trademark.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
We train and consult on the Clustar Method
for single source documentation

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