Linsanity… At The Trademark Office

from the ownership-culture dept

Perhaps you’ve been following the “Linsanity” story over the last week or so. Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s a pretty incredible story. The short summary for the six or seven of you who are sharing a rock to live under is that Jeremy Lin, who excelled at basketball as a high schooler in Palo Alto, was all but written off as having a real future in basketball. No college would give him a scholarship, and many thought that he should sign with a lower ranked college where he could play for fun, but not have any future. Even Stanford, which has a great basketball program and is literally across the street from where Lin played in high school, had little interest in getting Lin to play for them. He ended up going to Harvard (who did want him, but doesn’t do academic scholarships and isn’t known for its basketball program) and then wasn’t drafted by any NBA team. He did eventually sign with the Golden State Warriors (making him the first Taiwanese American NBA player) who played him sparingly last year and then cut him. He was with the Rockets in the pre-season, but they cut him before the season started. Then he signed on with the Knicks who had sent him down to the D-League and were rumored to be getting ready to cut him… before “Linsanity” began about 10 days ago.

Thanks to injuries to several Knicks players, they needed him to play, and over his past six games, he’s been a revelation — scoring more than any other player in the modern era of professional basketball in his first six games. Even Stephen Colbert has picked up on “Linsanity” (and even managed to get off a trademark-related joke about the NBA’s logo). It’s been a huge sensation around the country. Last night, after it looked like he might finally have a “down” game, he came back with a massive fourth quarter, and scored a rather spectacular three-pointer with no time left on the clock (after letting the clock run down himself) to win the game (a game they had been losing pretty much since the start). Even though the Knicks were the visiting team, the crowd in Toronto went crazy cheering for Lin. This is all from a guy who was crashing on teammates’ couches just two weeks ago, because he fully expected to be cut any day.

So what’s any of that got to do with what we normally talk about here? You guessed it! People are trying to use bogus intellectual property claims to lock up “Linsanity.” Bloomberg reports that there have already been two separate trademark claims on “Linsanity.” Both appear to be from people not directly associated with Lin, but merely looking to cash in by locking up the term. One told Bloomberg that he just “wanted to be part of the excitement.” By locking up the term used to describe it? How does that work? The other trademark claim comes from someone who claims he coached Lin in high school and started registering a bunch of Lin-related domain names years ago. Frankly, this comes off a bit more creepy, since even he admits that Lin has no idea that these domains have been registered.

Either way, neither of these guys has a strong claim on the trademark, but just the fact that they’re seeking such a trademark highlights the ridiculous “ownership culture” that has been built up around intellectual property laws today. It’s as if nothing can be shared culturally these days, without someone trying to claim ownership. Even if the claims are bogus, this is what you get when you spread the idea that every concept or cultural reference should be owned and locked up. The whole Jeremy Lin story is a great story that lots of folks are following, and sure, some people will want to cash in on that. But locking it up and denying the right for others to use it is just a really sad statement on the nature of culture today. Part of the reason why cultural events are cultural events is because of the fact that they’re shared moments or stories. Intellectual property law often seeks to block that by limiting the ability to share such cultural moments. It’s really unfortunate.

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Comments on “Linsanity… At The Trademark Office”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“…this is what you get when you spread the idea that every concept or cultural reference should be owned and locked up.”

Even major music labels and movie studios do not go this far, and they are the ones who are constantly vilified for simply trying to preserve creations that they have facilitated. If anything is being spread, it is over the top statements such as this.

As for the article, two people are not emblematic of an ownership culture. If anything, they are no more than emblems of some people who try and get something for nothing…pirates, if you will.

Violated (profile) says:


The basketball world can only be thankful that Jeremy Lin has finally received his shot at the big time. It does make you wonder how someone so talented so early on can be ignored by those who should be promoting their futures?

Well yes trademark and patents are well known to be subject to grabs and trolling. Even YouTube media is subject to vast wrong owner grabs either to censor them or to suck up the advertising revenue.

In a world where a modern smartphone can involve 70,000 patents then you can wonder how the hell anything can move even if one of those patent owners wants paying or causes problems. Then of course your rival can use their own patent war-pack to ban your sales in multiple countries.

Does this situation really help technology development and progress? How can the little guys get into this market when all who came before have already locked up those 70,000 patents?

Vic says:

That was fully expected. I listened to some sports radio about three-four days ago and in their talk with somebody (Magic Johnson? I do not remember exactly) that person also suggested the term “Linlicious”. Next thing you know they are discussing, jokingly of course, the need to trademark that word, because someone will do just that pretty soon!

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


There certainly hasn’t been the rush to lock down in trademarks and other “IP” that there has been in recent times. You know. Things like “hey, I own part of this guy’s name!”

Broad culture isn’t owned, it’s shared, That’s how it become culture.

(The Olympics don’t count because they’ve been at it for decades and in addition to proper trademark enforcement have gone way over the line time and time again.)

Anonymous Coward says:


The basketball world can only be thankful that Jeremy Lin has finally received his shot at the big time. It does make you wonder how someone so talented so early on can be ignored by those who should be promoting their futures?

-He’s not black
-He’s not 8-feet tall

“promoting their futures” is kind of funny though, chances are he didn’t slip the right money to the right people to get pushed to the front of the tryouts line.

Anonymous Coward says:


I think some sports guy did something, and fans gave it some sort of nickname, and the sports company that owned the sports guy tried to copyright the nickname.
Or something like that. My eyes glazed over halfway through the second sentence.

Maybe someone who actually cares about sports can give a more accurate summary of the summary?

DannyB (profile) says:

Living under a rock?

I’ve never heard of ‘Linsanity’.

Since it has something to do with sports, that initially gives me the impression that I am not interested. But, since it appears on TechDirt, that give me the impression that it may be something I should be interested in.

I don’t live under a rock. I consider myself very well informed about technology in general and computer technology in particular. Especially the specific areas of technology that I work in.

The ‘living under a rock’ thing is something I could have said, but wouldn’t have said to John Q Public a year ago about PROTECT-IP and ACTA, or later SOPA / PIPA. But it’s not John Q Public’s fault that he doesn’t necessarily read sources that offer regular coverage of those topics. Certainly the main stream media (to their shame) aren’t going to touch these topics.

There are plenty of other subjects in the world I am not well informed about — and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t follow, for example, which celebrity is dating who, or who won fake WWE, or anything related to professional sports.

Even though I may be unclear on whether baseball or football is played on a diamond, doesn’t mean I’m living under a rock.

Eastern European says:

Don't insult your readers living under embargo!

The vast majority of netizens live under strict cultural and informational embargo.
Totalitarian and semi-democratic regimes censor information coming from the West.
Western corporations and governments impose strict geolocks, DRM, and other restrictions on pretty much everything (Culture, Sports, etc.).
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is on the warpath against Non-Americans watching American Sports (and other exclusive American content).
(And not everybody can afford to pay the huge price tags attached to American content).

Don’t add insult to injury.
Humans do NOT live under rocks (Easterners, Africans, and other Third World citizens included)!
Insects and other creepy crawlers live under rocks.

I fully expect “big content” creators/distributors to insult and humiliate someone, to discriminate against customers, based on their geographical location and socioeconomic status…
I didn’t expect this from you, Mike Masnick.
Don’t insult your readers who do not have access to, or have no interest in your stuff.

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