Two Clicks Good, One Click Bad
It sounds a little like patenting the eight-items-or-less supermarket checkout lane. But since 1999, Amazon.com has held a patent on e-commerce features that let you buy stuff with a single click.
As a result, the megamerchant's superefficient 1-Click feature remains unique, tempting online shoppers, fattening Amazon's bottom line, and annoying competitors. Amazon did license the 1-Click concept to Apple for the iTunes Store, but it also took archrival Barnes & Noble to court over its 1-Click-like "Express Lane" feature.
For the past decade, critics of the U.S. patent system have frequently brought up 1-Click as an example of a company gaining a legal monopoly on an obvious, preexisting idea. Back, in 2001, tech pundit Tim O'Reilly awarded a $10,000 bounty to folks who found prior use of the idea--ranging from a European patent for TV shopping to references in Cheers, Doonesbury, and Star Trek. Much--but not all--of the patent was overturned in 2007; Amazon is still doing its best to preserve it.
Color it Trademarked
Want to make insulation? If you color it pink, Owens Corning will get huffy--it's got a trademark on the color for insulating materials.Yes, it's possible to trademark a color, at least as it relates to a particular type of product or business. The legal precedent was set in the U.S. in a 1995 decision involving two manufacturers of drycleaning goods who squabbled over a particular shade of green-gold.
If you start a wireless phone company, you need to be careful about magenta. That's T-Mobile's signature color, in heavy use in its logo, its advertising, and even its stores' decor. The Deutsche Telecom subsidiary has trademarked magenta in its native Germany and gone after other companies that have used the color there.
Don't Cross R2-D2
Let's face it: From Glance to Intrigue to Envy to Entice, cell phone names have gotten pretty trite. Among the virtues of Verizon Wireless's first Android phone is its fun moniker: Droid. It may be an unusual name for a phone, but Verizon had to seek permission to use it.
George Lucas's Lucasfilm has the term locked up, thanks to trademark filings that date to 1977, the year C-3PO and R2-D2 first graced the screen in Star Wars. (Hey, there have even been droid phones before.) Lucasfilm trademarked "Droid" for use in the phone business in October 2009, shortly before Verizon's device went on sale; read the fine print in ads for the Droid and Droid Eris and you'll see an acknowledgement that the name is used under license from Lucas.
Over the Edge
California game publisher EDGE Games hasn't released a new title in years. But every time any other company comes out with a game with "Edge" in the name--hoo boy! EDGE has taken or threatened legal action against EA for Mirror's Edge, Namco for Soul Edge, New World Computing for Planet's Edge, and Marvel over several comics with Edge in the name.
Most notoriously, the company engaged in an extended, bizarre trademark scuffle with Mobigame over its iPhone game Edge, which was eventually renamed Edgy--a name EDGE has also claimed is also too close to its trademark.
After EDGE went after another iPhone game, Killer Edge Racing, a bunch of iPhone game developers fought back in an effectively tongue-in-cheek manner: They announced plans for such games as FEDGE, Edgeliss, LEDGE Dismount, and Edgeward McEdgington. Still to be determined: EDGE's stance on U2's The Edge, the defunct soap opera The Edge of Night, and the city of Edgewood, Washington.
Next: Emoticons and Mighty Mouse