Trademark Law Spinning Out Of Control

Trademark law is unlike copyrights and patents in a very important way. Copyrights and patents are designed to give specific ownership over an idea or work to those that created it. Trademark, on the other hand, is not at all about ownership -- which is why it probably shouldn't be included under the "intellectual property" umbrella. It's really about consumer protection. You don't want consumers to be confused into buying a product believing it's one thing (say, Coca-Cola) when it's really something else (say, Bob's Cola). Unfortunately, with the growing intellectual property obsession among lawyers in this country, there's been an effort underway to stretch the intended meaning of trademark law away from just consumer protection into outright ownership. The latest is that lawyers are encouraging clients to trademark all sorts of phrases to prevent their general use without a license -- which seems like a clear First Amendment violation. One example given is a phrase that a former boyfriend used to say to Anna Nicole Smith. Apparently he (and his lawyers) are hoping that the trademark means that anyone who uses the phrase in "movies, books, TV programs, Internet programs and stage plays" will now have to pay up first. This is not at all what trademark law was designed for, and yet when we're taught that you can "own" ideas and concepts, it's no surprise to see people try to take ownership of simple words and phrases as well.

(Via Techdirt.)