25 April 2006

Now It's Trademarks' Turn

I've written a fair amount about patent woes in these posts (some would probably say too much). And in many ways, patents are easy pickings, since the idiocies perpetrated by patent offices around the world are pretty obviously wrong, even to the person on the Clapham omnibus.

But trademarks are another matter. Rights and wrongs here are more slippery, since there is certainly commercial sense in allowing owners to protect brands that they may have invested considerable amounts to build up. But trademarks are not like copyright: it is not an artistic question of infringing on an expression of an idea, but rather a commercial issue of avoiding confusion in the marketplace.

So the news that the US is about to push through some changes to its trademark law that will radically re-shape what trademarks will do in areas outside commerce is bad indeed. The bill in question would remove traditional exceptions to US trademark law that concern news reporting and commentary; fair use; and non-commercial use. If these proposals become law, it will give owners of trademarks huge and totally inappropriate power over not just competitors, but the media and the public too.

Update: Here's what companies already get up to using trademarks.

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