by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 29th 2011 4:56am
We've covered the ongoing legal fight over who can use the phrase "app store" to describe their store for apps, and the NY Times is highlighting how there's a "great language landgrab" concerning this and other similar legal battles. But the real issue is that this is simply an abuse of trademark law -- an abuse brought on by a few decades of people falsely telling the world that concepts and words can be "owned." Trademark law, of course, was never supposed to be about "ownership." It was always designed as a consumer protection statute, to avoid consumer confusion. It's only in the last few decades, as lawyers worked hard to expand the definition and coverage of trademark law... and to lump it in with copyright and patents by calling it "intellectual property," that this idea of "ownership" became more common place. And, once people think they can own such things, it's inevitable that they try to expand what they can "own" via this tool. When it comes to trademarks, the USPTO should have put an end to this early on by simply barring any registered trademarks on obviously descriptive terms like "app store" or simple prefixes and suffixes like "book" for "Facebook." Instead, we're left in a situation where we see regular lawsuits from companies who are simply trying to cause trouble for other companies, in a way that has nothing to do with preventing consumer confusion.
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