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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  1. icon
    David Muir (profile), 16 Feb 2012 @ 3:28am

    ...Harvard (who did want him, but doesn't do academic scholarships and isn't known for its basketball program)...

    I'm pretty sure Harvard gives academic scholarships ( ). It's athletic scholarships they don't offer.

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