Category Archives: ip

intellectual property. copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, etc.

birth of and intellectual property

Intellectual property pops up in the strangest places.

Browsing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg, for instance, I found this discourse on “stealing” baby names:

Not long ago, I heard an expectant mother beside herself with outrage. She had just learned that another woman in her small town had “stolen” her baby name! No, she admitted, she had never met the woman. But for years now she had been planning to name a baby Keaton, a name she had personally invented, and now there was another little Keaton right across town. Someone must have told that other mother her own secret, special name. Thief!

Chances are this was not really a case of name larceny. That mom had just run into a startling fact of baby-name life: Our tastes, which feel so personal, are communal creations. Keaton? Well, it’s a surname ending in “n,” a style parents are flocking to for fresh ideas that sound like classic names. K in particular is a hot first letter. And don’t forget that almost every parent today grew up watching Alex Keaton on Family Ties. So just like that outraged mom, thousands of parents across the country have independently “invented” the name for their kids.

We live in a shared culture with communities and experiences that shape our likes and dislikes. That means overlapping tastes — and as a rule, the closer two people are, the greater the overlap. Many of us have had a long-cherished name “stolen” by friends who had long cherished it themselves. …

… [R]emember that communal taste is really a good thing. That shared perspective is exactly what gives names their style and nuance. It’s also the context that lets you define your own style, meaningfully. …

This is from The Baby Name Wizard, Laura Wattenberg, “Rules of Thumb for Choosing a Name” (2005), p.6 (babynamewizard.com), which is probably my favorite baby name book out there. In addition to the little “definitions” and heritage information about various names, it includes trend information, and a variety of essays (like the one above) that contextualize names and naming. The book was published in 2005, and has a hypnotic and fascinating associated website — the “name voyager” — which provides the most up-to-date trend information for names. Type in any name to see how names beginning with those letters or that name have been trending up or down in the US over the past 125 years.

The book is awesome, in part because the author analyzes the phonemes and meanings of individual names, the data on popularity of individual names, and does significant additional research into news and culture, to discern both causes and meta-trends. For instance, tracking how Aiden and Jaden and many other names have become popular, while Eunice and Beulah and many other formerly popular names have become less so, the author sees that Americans dislike the “yoo” sound in names, but, these days, love the “ehn” sound as an ending. Our common tastes manifest in individual names, but reflect a deeper common taste in phonemes, resonances, and meanings.

The same zeitgeist lies behind numerous simultaneous “inventions” of unique names, and “rediscoveries” of older names. My partner and I loved the name Emma, and thought surely this nice old-fashioned name that is an excellent homage to Emma Goldman would be distinctive. I’m sure that most people reading this know what we were surprised to learn: Not only did we love picking that name out of our collective past, so did practically every other person of our age group: It’s the number two name for our daughters ever since people of our generation started having children.

I quoted Wattenberg at length, because so much of what she was astutely observing about our tastes and creative processes is utterly applicable to everything I think and write about on a daily basis. We humans take our names, and our children’s names, fairly seriously, and spend a decent amount of time scouring for them. In fact, as Wattenberg points out, one of the current trends is to have a unique name — we all try to come up with unique names for our children, and we all do it by assembling the same sets of popular sounds and rhythms.

… Finally, as long as I’m on the topic, you may be amused by this disclaimer on our “hypno-birthing” preparation audiorecording:

Do not listen to this CD while in a moving vehicle.

update 2/26 6pm: Wattenberg had two fascinating posts on the evolution of naming patterns and national identity — L’Etat, c’est nous (Jan. 23) and Part 2: L’Estat, c’est nous (Feb. 13) — deep comment threads. For those of you who, like me, are not what you might call “anthroponymists”, this can be a fun diversion. I was struck most particularly by a short reference in the Feb. 13 column:

Starting in the 16th century most countries moved toward heritable surnames … Modern nation states required more from names, too. In Scandinavia, the patronymic naming system that had existed since the time of the Vikings (Niels Jensen’s son Peder is Peder Nielsen, his daughter Anna is Anna Nielsdatter) was eliminated to aid record-keeping. Taxing, educating and conscripting a mobile population required clear and traceable family names.

“Family names” being the presumptive father’s names, that is. L’Estat, c’est le patriarcat, apparently. But what really struck me was the influence that states and governments have had on this basic feature of identity, and the ways that identity has been created in part as a form of social control.

shaolin trademarks and copyright as generic for IP

In an SFgate story about conflicts between folks trying to take Shaolin practice in different directions, I spotted this:

In recent years, the main temple’s abbot, Shi YongXin, has tried to copyright the Shaolin name. He’s also been criticized for commercializing the faith. YongXin gave his approval to Ho’s venture in San Francisco.

Really? I thought. Tried to copyright the name? Surely they mean trademark …. A little googling found this China Daily article from a couple of years ago (2004/9/28). I quote in its entirety because virtually every single paragraph illustrates the wacky confusion:

Shaolin monks in hand-to-hand copyright battle
Updated: 2004-09-28 09:53

The monks of China’s Shaolin temple are not just good at kung fu but also increasingly agile at using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs, state media reported.

The 1,500 year-old temple, known as the cradle of China’s martial arts, recently set up the Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Co., whose main purpose is to protect the temple’s intellectual property rights, Xinhua news agency said.

“Everyone just wants to make some profits from the name, totally regardless of the integral image of Shaolin Temple,” Shaolin abbot Shi Yongxin told the agency.

More than 1,000 brands containing “Shaolin” have been registered without the approval of the temple in the United States, Japan and Europe, Shi said.

Since its start, the new company has been engaged in feverish activity, registering nearly 100 Shaolin-related brands in China and has applied to register “Shaolin” brands in over 100 countries, Xinhua said.

A survey by the China Trademark and Patent Law Office found that many countries were competing to register their own trademarks of Shaolin or Shaolin temple, state media reported previously.

On the west coast of the United States alone, there are three Shaolin temples. In Europe, Shaolin temples can be found in Vienna and Budapest.

with a photo captioned:

A young monk of China’s Shaolin temple demonstrating his skills. The monks have increasingly been using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs. [AFP]

Further reading–it looks like this story has flurried every couple of years, 2002, 2004, 2006:
* The People’s Daily from 2002/9/25 had more information about the beginning of the trademark wars.
* The USA Today picked up the story around the same time.
* The BBC News on 2004/6/29
* 2004/6/2 a story at p2pnet.net
* Another 2006 piece from China Shaolin Temple itself gives their perspective.
* China Daily, 2006/10/19 had this insightful history:

Back in 1993, Shi Yongxin took a ham manufacturer to court for promoting the ham under the brand “Shaolin,” which he claimed constituted a trademark infringement. It was the first case on brand rights in China’s religious circles.

Recalling the lawsuit, Shi said, “a long time ago, communication and transportation were not as convenient as today, and products were circulated in a limited area, so trademark registration was not required. With globalization comes infringement. To protect the trademark, we have to register the brand ‘Shaolin.’ The registration is totally protective. ”

However, the Shaolin Temple brand is being taken advantage of by other businessmen. About 200 meters north of the temple, the local tourist bureau has built the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts School, and right across from that is a Zen institute that is backed by a salt company.

Many suspect such commercial aspirations will disturb the tranquility of the temple. Shi, however, believed such establishment is a result of the interplay between business and brand, likening Shaolin Temple to the American Disneyland, which is a brand as well as a business.

* Kung Fu Magazine had an interview with Shi Yongxin, Abbot of Shaolin temple:

GC: How is trademarking the name of Shaolin going?
Abbot: Recently, some businessmen and companies had been engaging in using the Shaolin name to further their product. This influenced the image of Shaolin culture in a negative way. Now Shaolin Temple is attending to this matter. Abuse of the Shaolin trademark will diminish the influence of Shaolin Temple and create misunderstandings of Shaolin in the public eye. Shaolin represents the best of traditional Chinese art in kung fu and Chan Buddhism. As we know, some products and services provided by these companies were outlawed by the rules of Buddhism. So we have begun to administrate the trademark of Shaolin, not for the sake of profit, just for the sake of preserving our culture and religion.

… This was an interesting search in its own right, but a couple of observations:
* You know, it’s not so easy to google for something + copyright, because every frickin’ thing on the Internet says “blah blah blah COPYRIGHT date by yadda yadda yadda”.
* This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed “copyright” being used synonymously for “intellectual property”. It’s as if the copyright trademark is itself being diluted.

* Every article has its own copyright date and they’re apparently being put in almost at random as part of website templates in some cases, the article in other cases, etc. For instance the 2002 USA Today article, which I found on 2007/4/29, had a “Copyright 2005 the Associated Press”. The Kung Fu Magazine article didn’t have a date on the article or on its copyright statement, but had an automatically generated “today’s date” in the header — so one might mistakenly read the article and think it was today. This is a problem for citations, of course, but it’s also a problem for orphan works issues in the far future. So if the dates on the works themselves are practically meaningless, then how is the future historian going to be able to tell when the 95-year corporate copyright term has expired? If we’re all relying on the overworked Internet Archive as our de facto copyright database then someone needs to give them like a bajillion dollars in a hurry so they can capture the whole Internet and do it every day.

PTO’s standards for offensive

Apparently the PTO is protecting us all from the offensive term “Dykes”. See Jason Schultz; SFGate. Very annoying and what poor judgment. ‘Offensive’ really ought to refer to terms used offensively, as in, attacks on someone or something. The way the PTO interprets offensive — a term that can be used disparagingly — any freaking TM app could be rejected! Hmm.

boring cybersquatters

The same-sex marriage debates in Canada have taken a new turn: registering the domain name of the MPs and referring them to various websites opposing their position. Seems to be mostly the anti-SSM folks using these tactics. [Toronto Globe & Mail 6/20]

I appreciate a well-designed spoof & sux site as well as the next geek but the tactic of buying a domain name and redirecting it to a different generic website is just so boring. Take their domain names away, already, until they’re willing to actually do something entertaining & content-ful with them.

David Cobb (G) on privacy & freedom

A presidential candidate has an IP policy. Whoo-hoo!

David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate, doesn’t like genetic patents, thinks the patent system needs reform, is proud his website is on open source software, and thinks we should codify caselaw striking down shrinkwrap licenses. (Take that, BNetd case!)

(A recent Dan Gillmor column shows that by contrast neither Kerry nor Bush have any sense of the public interest in intellectual property law. [10/4])

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‘true name’ bill signed

Sigh. Now i know why i was feeling kinda blue today: On Wed, 9/22, Schwarzenegger signed SB1506, the so-called ‘true-name’ bill, which requires anyone putting copyrighted content on a p2p system to include their name and contact information. [Sacramento: Governor signs Internet piracy bill: E-mail address required to share movies, music online by Mark Martin & Lynda Gledhill — sfgate 9/22]. Certainly it wasn’t a surprise — this bill has been steamrollering through since early this year. But it doesn’t make my day any better.

Highlights: this line from the article:

Last week [Gov. Schwarzenegger] signed an executive order prohibiting state employees from using software designed for file sharing.

Ummm … like TCP/IP? AppleShare? The web? Might make it hard to do business …

And in related news: Donna Wentworth pointed to another recent state-law copyright case [U.S. v. Jean Martignon, 03cr1287 (SDNY 2004)]: The court struck down an anti-bootleg law because it didn’t recognize copyright terms. (Attn, Gov. Schwarzenegger: Is that the drumbeat of p-r-e-e-m-p-t-i-o-n sounding in the distance … ?)

The bill, SB1506/AB (pdf as chaptered), reads:

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future of ip clinics

I’m out in DC, attending an IP Clinics meeting. Interesting how there are so many “access” clinics now, dedicated to small business / entrepreneurship — helping people get IP. Will the policy-oriented clinics be outweighed by the transactional clinics? Are we even the same kinds of clinics? I’m not sure.

update 2006/2/7: I should have posted this a while back, but one of the outcomes of this meeting was the nascent IP Clinics Network, which now has a website — ipclinics.net . Like any other network of nonprofits & public interest & public services orgs, it needs a lot of work, but it’s a good start.