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AOL Trademarks nixed 95

Posted by Hemos
from the losing-the-bad-fight dept.
Robert Wilde writes "A small dose of sanity in the world of trademarks, according to a ZDNN story; the courts have ruled AOL doesn't own "You've got mail," "IM," or "buddy list." " So, I suppose that means my copyright for "E-Commerce Solution" and "E-mail" is probably out as well.
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AOL Trademarks nixed

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  • the term "trademark" is public domain and may not be trademarked. however you can copyright the the phrase "trademark(tm)." ;).
  • So is AOL's trademark application for the word "wardialer" still pending? Has anybody figured out why in the world AOL considers themselves to have a valid claim over the word (or why they'd want to)?
  • Hmm, I hope "first post" is TM-able. That way Rob can trademark it and sue all the ACs who use it without his permission!
  • While I applaud the way they handled that situation, Apple are
    hardly people who should complain about bogus IP claims.

    These are the people who sued MS for using an approach to HCI
    that apple had copied from Xerox . They are probably the
    worst offenders in terms of dubious IP claims of any high tech
    company, and that's against some some pretty tough competition".

    Trademarking plain language makes no sense to me. If you want a
    trademark, invent a word.

    Although, maybe MS should be entitled to
    "Where are we going to take you today"
  • Thanks! I'd wondered about this, but I've always seen it attributed to Goldwater without mentioning Jefferson.

    :)

    Point is still the same though ... extremism is used as a dirty word, but it oughtn't be other than a morally neutral modifier rendered good or bad by context.

    timothy
  • by Anonymous Coward
    AOL is being silly about "You have mail." On the other hand, "Instant Messenger" seems like a reasonable thing to be able to trademark for a product name. On the other hand, if I create "Immediate Mail" and refer to as "IM", AOL shouldn't be able to do anything. This reminds me of, way back when, IBM trying to stop people who were making Micro-Channel Cards from using "/2" in the name (the only machines with MCA were IBM's PS/2) by trademarking or copyrighting "/2". Which brought up the whole bit about everybody having to pay IBM for the right to divide by 2.
  • My thoughts exactly! Moderate this one up! :)
  • No - I am not trolling, the topic of trademarking these banal phrases just got me to wondering if FileMaker Pro [filemaker.com] actually trademarked that particular phrase ... they are definitely using it a lot in advertising, etc.

    Everytime I go to their website, I can't help but giggle at such a friendly slogan ...

    ;-)

    YS
  • The first I read of "instant Messages" was in Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia novel, a combination of two stories published in the early 1950's.
  • ...got milk?

    :) -- Smiley not trademarked
  • Cyrix codenamed one of their processors Jedi and Lucas got really pissed off at that so Cyrix changed it to some desert name. Its a damn codename, its not like the finally product would be called that.
  • "You have mail." dates back to (possibly before) just about any UNIX out there. "You've got mail." is an aolism, however. I still don't think it should be trademarkable(it's a word now).
  • Uhm...correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't aol trying to trademark "You've got mail" not "You have mail" AT&T has been using "You have mail" since the times when it wrote UNIX.
  • You only have to aggresively defend patents. You can let trademarks go w/ no fear of losing the trademark. Look at "linux" for an example. Linus afaik does NOTHING to defend the trademark, yet it's still his.
  • Muhahahaha!!!! AOL can't touch me!
  • Does anyone remember the name of the floppy controller from the original apples? Wasn't it something like the "Wozniac [something] Device"?
  • The trouble is that in the world of high-tech, those codenames are used as early marketing tools. There are magazine articles written about them, the specs are often available, the companies have webpages for them ... these guys are not blameless, they KNOW they are marketing tools.

    Besides, it's not that Lucas was pissed off. It's that "Jedi" is a trademark in itself, and if you do not protect a trademark ... this is the law! ... you can lose it. While "Sagan" wasn't likely trademarked by the good doctor, there are laws about unauthorized use of celebrity images and names.
  • Hewlett Packard codenamed the OmniGo 100 series palmtops Jedi. It even shipped with a few libraries having Jedi in the name, and the default system font was called Jedi. I guess they were lucky to get away with that. But I really don't see how you can complain about a codename...
  • Apropos of nothing, Mitsubishi actually did manufacture a Plymouth for a time, the Dodge/Plymouth Colt, which I was privileged to drive for two years. IIRC, Mitsubishi still makes the Eagle Talon (except they don't make Eagles anymore) or whatever they call it when it's a Dodge.
  • Does this mean that apple can't really hold a trademark on the word "Trash" and its icon?

    I believe both the KDE project and Corel Linux were asked not to use it, and are now considering using Dumpster instead...

    Seems to me that if "You've got mail" doesn't hold up, then Trash is a really silly trademark!
  • Is it just me, or have people from the UK only
    recently started referring to corporations as
    plural entities? Suddenly I'm surrounded by
    phrases such as "Apple are as bad as everyone"

    Has it always been this way, and I'm just in the
    dark? The Economist using the "American"
    usage of a corporation as a single entity, so I
    don't know what to think.

    Not a grammar rant, just a query.
  • Better yet, how about the trash icon be made to look like the MS Windows logo instead of an actual trashcan?
  • Maybe it's just me, but I don't see why people make fun of this one so much. It actually makes sense! If your keyboard isn't working, there's not terribly much you can do. Connect a valid keyboard and you're able to press F1 and continue the boot.
  • I don't know how much more common of a trademarked word or phrase you can get than ...

    "Windows"

    :)
  • Yep. It's all over the papers here...
    Also 'Site Promotion' is trademarked.
  • sometimes i swear that the courts are the only ones that make any sane decisions in this country anymore...

    i guess we can only hope that the justice system doesnt get screwed with extremist appointees... i think that there are going to be a large amount of privacy and free speech debates. we definately need some strict constitutionalists in there...

    oh yeh - do you think that my trademark attempt on "first post" will hold up?
  • by MrEd (60684) <tonedog@haiFREEBSDlmail.net minus bsd> on Monday August 16, 1999 @07:36AM (#1744483)

    Today it was also discovered that, contrary to popular belief, Microsoft Corp. does not own the trademarks to "General Protection Fault", "Fatal Exception Error" or "Please restart your computer".

  • by / (33804) on Monday August 16, 1999 @07:52AM (#1744484)
    Here [zdnet.com]
  • I'm glad to see the courts are throwing out silly copyrights.. Now if they'll only start throwing out the silly patents everywhere..

  • So does this mean I can legally say "xerox" now instead of "photocopy" and "kleenex" instead of "facial tissue"? "Magic markers" instead of the generic "permanent markers"? Can I sell some Band-aids now?

    So now I suppose I can start up a content providing business and call it "NAOL" (North America Online" or "WOL" (World Online) and add in a nifty little program called NIM or WIM which has a "buddy list"? And when people get email, a nice happy voice of a guy from Orville can tell you "You've got mail!" Think of the possibilities...
  • You forgot "Abort, Retry, Fail?"
  • by Accipiter (8228) on Monday August 16, 1999 @07:53AM (#1744488)
    That's a good thing, because I have a habit of going out to my mailbox (the one on my lawn), coming back to the house, and saying "Mom, You've got Mail." (Although, I avoid using the goofy voice.)

    Now I don't have to add: "the phrase 'You've got Mail' is a registered trademark of America Online, Inc." That kinda annoyed the family.

    What about the people who don't know how to use proper punctuation? The ones who say "Im going to the mall." Do they have to pay AOL for the use of the term "IM"?

    /SARCASM

    Although this brings up an interesting point....Did AOL own that patent at any time BEFORE this ruling? There was that movie "You've got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Did they have to pay AOL royalties for that title? Aren't they entitled to get those royalties back?

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • by jd (1658)
    And I was going to trademark "trademark" and sue every company in existance. :)

    Oh well, I'll just have to patent the use of wood or stone, organised in a cuboid structure, with a hollow interior. I'm thinking of calling it a "building".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is a big distinction between copyright and trademark. Please, let's have some accuracy in reporting. :)
  • Probably not. Those images were the work of a graphic artist somewhere, so AOL does have the copyright to them. They are well within their rights to have GAIM remove them.

    This ruling just means that AOL doesn't own the words "You've Got Mail", etc... They still own the rights to most of the rest of the stuff (as they should, since they developed it).

    -ElJefe
  • Oh, "You've got mail" was a huge marketing campaign for AOL... rather ingenious, I think, actually. Think of all the non-computer people who would watch that, see that the Internet is not just for geeks, or think that they'll meet Mr/Ms Right on AOL, and go sign up. The amount that AOL made from that sort of advertising/publicity is worth any amount of "royalties" they could ever try to get from usage of the phrase. In fact, I think that they probably paid a lot of cash to help fund the movie.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...AIM clone developers will be able to use the IM buddy graphic in their clients again? (thinking of gaim)
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Monday August 16, 1999 @07:59AM (#1744494) Homepage
    My favorite trademark infringement story ever:

    Apple had a habit of naming it's internal secret projects after various things. One project was dubbed internally as "Sagan", with respect to, of course, the sci-fi writer Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan learned of this and threatened to sue Apple for the unauthorized use of his name. Apple quickly complied, chaning the name of the project to "Stuck-up astronomer." Or so the story goes.

    Heehee.
  • by JohnZed (20191) on Monday August 16, 1999 @07:49AM (#1744495)
    Well, Instant Messenger as a tradmark isn't really ridiculous. For AT&T to come out with a similar product and give it an identical name is really shady. What if Mitsubishi came out with a car called the "Plymouth" and argued that, hey, Plymouth is a popular name. Bullsh*@#$%&t. We don't complain about IBM which has a TM on "International Business Machines", and I don't see how you can get much more generic than that.
    It's just fashionable to bust on MS and AOL these days.
    --JRZ
  • Throw out silly patents? Nahhh... that'd be way too much work!
  • Hopefully they can keep:
    "Keyboard Error. Press F1 to continue"
  • Apple had a habit of naming it's internal secret projects after various things. One project was dubbed internally as "Sagan", with respect to, of course, the sci-fi writer Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan learned of this and threatened to sue Apple for the unauthorized use of his name. Apple quickly complied, chaning the name of the project to "Stuck-up astronomer." Or so the story goes.


    I thought it was butthead astromer, but it's been too long since I heard that sroty.

    George
  • Truthfully, I think that the framers of the constitution should have stopped at
    "Congress shall make no law" and been finished there.

    I have a serious problem with people trying to interpret the consitution with the attitude of
    ---
    the founders of this country never really MEANT to arm the peopple and to make sure that the right to free speech be respected, they would have never put them in today
    ---

    the framers of the consitutution REVOLTED ... they werent about making oppression, they were about freeing themselves...

    oh well...

    and dont start me on states rights and what the fedearl govt has been doing with that.
  • I'm glad to see you're taking a stand against the patent holders of the caps lock key.
  • Does that mean that my submissions for trademarks for "." and "com" and "net" and "org" might not go through? Dang it!
  • Not that i support AOL, but I don't see why they shouldn't at least be able to protect the annoying sound bite for "You've got mail." As for protecting the actual verbage of "you've got mail, IM and buddy list" that is IMHO just another attempt at AOL's lawyers to get more billable hours and tie up the courts from doing anything productive. As for the whole IM hoopla, i thought that there had been sucessful cases for "Look and Feel" infringement befor (ala Microsoft and Apple).
  • I see what you mean. It's completely true that the judge in this case made his decision based on how cool it would make him look in the eyes of his peers. He can now hang out with the other judges in their chic black robes at the raquetball club and talk about how evil AOL is and how crappy Microsoft's software is too. The other judges will hail him as eleet. He will be kewl.

    - A.P.
    --


    "One World, One Web, One Program" - Microsoft Promotional Ad

  • The Integrated Woz Machine, I believe. Something like that anyway.
  • In the movie 'Eraser', (w/ Arnold Schwarzenegger), I believe, there was an Evil Company named Cyrex. After Cyrix complained, the name changed to something else.
  • Hey all,

    I'm sorry to inform you that I have now copyrighted the word "Internet" (c) in all shapes and forms.

    Hereby each use of the word in question will be charged a standard rate of £5.

    "Internet" and all its derivatives (c) The Jazzmann 1999.
  • Never mind that those would be Intel's anyway. :) (they're pulled directly from their manuals, and they go back as far as the 80286).

    -lee
  • "Excel" "Internet Explorer" "Front Page" "New Technology" "The" "Microsoft" "Network"

    Sun has, well, "Sun" and "Java". (What if Starbucks wants to use the word "Java" in a product)

    Apple has "Macintosh" which conflicts with the (to be eaten) apple.

    FASA Corp has "Matrix".

    "Joy" dish soap; "Cheer" ditergent; "Tide" (with bleach;

    Realy, I think a country's body of laws should be the absolute minimal requred to keep order -- that shouldn't include *any* copyright, patent, or trademark laws...

  • I'm surprised no one else posted this [theonion.com] yet.

    Scroll down a bit. It's the second "News in Brief" article.

    -ElJefe

  • "Joy" dish soap; "Cheer" ditergent; "Tide" (with bleach)

    I couldn't tell any sarcasm from your comment, so here I go ;)

    Joy is also an emotion, therefore when referenced to as such no trademark or copyright can be applied.

    The same applies for the rest.

    However re. Java, I'm no lawyer, but if they were to refer to it in a sensible way I'm sure Sun would have no problems with it. For example "Java coffee, the new blend from xxx" is unlikely to be a problem. However other obvious trade-ins on the name should be taken up
  • I don't know about all the others, but surely Banyan Systems already have the IM mark for their Intelligent Messaging system...?

    J
  • Does anyone know if 'Internet Explorer' is a trademark of Microsoft? I remember a while back that a company was suing Microsoft for using the name as they had it trademarked but Microsoft were saying that 'Internet Explorer' was a generic term see here [slashdot.org]. However the people suing MS ran out of money and so had to settle.

    If MS are using that as a trademark now they really are hypocrites.
    --

  • Whatever the case using the word 'dumpster' would be extremely stupid as it's really only ever used in the US. Recycle bin is fairly country neutral and trash is US but understandable by most other people.

    BTW the UK versions of MacOS use a 'Wastebasket'.
    --
  • I don't think it's recent, they've always considered things with lots of parts plural, for example on their news you might hear "Her Majesty's government have declined to comment", or "Rolls-Royce have just announced a new model of automobile" whereas in the U.S. it would be "The government has declined to comment", or "Ford has just announced a new model of automobile".

  • I think they kept it the same, maybe the actors pronounced it slightly different.
  • Then that's a different recording.
    --
    "I was a fool to think I could dream as a normal man."
    B. B. Buick
  • My fave: TWAIN - Technology Without an Interesting Name .. a communication protocal for data aquisition across SCSI, I think?
  • Actually the code name got changed to BHA. Standing for Butt Head Astronomer. Apple has always loved acronyms. My favorite was MIETDBWA - Making It Easier To Do Buisness With Apple. Now that is a slogan that defeats it's own purpose.

  • I suspect (not having seen it, I can't confirm) that the title was actually in the end an example of product placement. In other words, AOL paid THE MOVIE PRODUCERS for them to use the title, instead of the other way around.

    For a while in pre-production the film had a couple of different titles (such as You Have Mail), only changing to You've Got Mail in April '98 -- so it's likely that they initially avoided [read:played coy] any association, until AOL ponied up in some way (which could have been as simple as running "co-op ads").
  • I too remember it as "butthead astronomer." Of course I am way to lazy to try to search for the story on the web anywhere.

  • Use Windows enough and you'd think they did.
  • ...now let's see them get rid of "Let's go!", "Where do you want to go today?", "Just do it!", and all other English phrases in common daily use.

    Marketing slogans shouldn't be trademarked. If the company wants that protection, they should use one of their trademark product names in their slogan.
  • So does this mean I can legally say "xerox" now instead of "photocopy" and "kleenex" instead of "facial tissue"? "Magic markers" instead of the generic "permanent markers"? Can I sell some Band-aids now?

    None of those make any sense. The judge didn't rule that trademarks in general are invalid; he just ruled that AOL didn't have sufficient claim to the generic phrase "You've got mail" to make it a unique trademark.

    So now I suppose I can start up a content providing business and call it "NAOL" (North America Online" or "WOL" (World Online) and add in a nifty little program called NIM or WIM which has a "buddy list"? And when people get email, a nice happy voice of a guy from Orville can tell you "You've got mail!" Think of the possibilities...

    WOL might work, but NAOL would be too close. (The "consumer confusion" clause.) But yes, it appears that "buddy list" is now up for grabs -- which, to me, is the only one of the three that makes sense for AOL to own. Although, actually, the ZDNN article makes reference to "You have mail" being the operative phrase, which I would say NO WAY could AOL have trademark claim over since their phrase is "You've GOT mail."

    There's no real new law here -- the rules have always made it harder to trademark an existing common phrase than a made-up word. For example, starting a business named "Joe's Convenience Store" doesn't mean you now have rights to the phrase "convenience store" -- but it would be hard to deny someone protection for "Joe's Conven-i-o-mart". And then they'd have to be aggressive about protecting the phrase "conveniomart" from becoming generic, or the only protectable part of the name would be "Joe's" (and then only for businesses in the 24/7 store arena).
  • Agreed. The "You have mail" thing predates AOL pretty handily (anyone still use Eudora?), and "buddy lists" is pushing it, but Instant Messenger isn't really a phrase that anyone ever used prior to AOL's product. To my knowledge, anyway.
  • Hey, I dont see whats wrong with NT servers..that one over there is stable and never crashes...oh wait...blue screen of death just popped up
  • >WHY on earth would we want those? Hell, let MS patent 'em.

    You mean they haven't already?!?
  • by Otto (17870) on Monday August 16, 1999 @08:30AM (#1744528) Homepage Journal
    For those interested...

    http://www.wolfstonelaw.com/saganslande r.html [wolfstonelaw.com]
    ---
  • Actually, they have every claim to the sound effect itself.
    --
    "I was a fool to think I could dream as a normal man."
    B. B. Buick
  • hell,

    language is there to communicate with. so if many ppl use a word no moneysucker should be allowed to stop them from doing that. it is just that some ppl are too stupid to listen to the words others develop. so here comes somebody and says "hey i made this silly combination of letters up - it belongs to me". it is so strange a few letters than can even be pronounced and they think they can owe that. ha ha ha
  • You only have to aggresively defend patents. You can let trademarks go w/ no fear of losing the trademark. Look at "linux" for an example. Linus afaik does NOTHING to defend the trademark, yet it's still his.

    Why don't you give that bit of sage advice to the originators of heroin, zipper, aspirin, escalator, granola, yo-yo and linoleum ... all trademarks that were not protected, and lost.

    It's the responsibility of the trademark owner to research the mark's distinctiveness in the beginning, to police the market [cojk.com] for competitors' use of possibly infringing marks, and to object before an "unreasonable" time has passed -- otherwise there aren't legal grounds to claim infringement.

    As for Linus -- he's actually vigorously and quickly defended [linuxmall.com] the Linux trademark. Note that allowing others to use the trademark doesn't infringe, if they are doing so as agents of the owner. Variant Linux distributions fall under that rubric. Granted, this is a special -- perhaps very nearly unique -- case, but in principle it's not very different from, say, a restaurant franchising operation.
  • EnderWiggnz wrote:

    "Truthfully, I think that the framers of the constitution should have stopped at "Congress shall make no law" and been finished there.


    Hear, hear! Actually, I'm in favor of some laws occasionally, but every law should not only be necessary but should be periodically reviewed (or reviewable on demand).

    But I think every law can be analyzed in terms of how much freedom it either safeguards or removes -- and that this is the most important benchmark. Not "how many lives can be saved," "making an important moral statement," "protecting members of Interest Group X," etc.

    Today's politicians are (with few exceptions) late-Roman empire types, dispensing favors in order to keep their purple togas -- not the revolutionaries who broke from Brittain and said "No taxation without representation." Instead, it's "Taxation is OK, so long as my district gets a portion of gravy, and my friend here gets the contract for ladling it out."

    just thoughts (with the conclusion that voting l/Libertarian is the least evil thing to do ...)

    timothy
  • Barry Goldwater? ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.")

    Barry was quoting Thomas Jefferson.

  • Sorry, but the name "Instant Messanger" is not like "Plymouth". Now, if Mitsubishi came out with a car and called it "Luxury Sedan", "Sports Utility Vehicle", or "Station Wagon"...
  • Oh, yeah? Well, in Brazil we have UNIVERSE Online.
    (http://www.uol.com.br [uol.com.br])

    See if you can beat that. ;)
  • And who can forget the PS/2's "Generally Operational Linear Digital Biphase Electronic Retardance Gate" -- GOLDBERG for short -- that silly rod that went from the Big Red Switch all the way back to the power supply...
  • Almost certainly the case. I did see the movie, and ie, the mail client was very obviously AOL. I believe they showed the AOL logo several times, and used the AOL "You've got mail" sound clip.
  • Serves them right for not coming up with something even more banal: like "I Seek You."

    AOL's likely response can probably be summed up in the family words of the other patently annoying, yet infuriatingly ubiquitous desktop client.

    Ut oh!

    --

  • "Keyboard Error. Press F1 to continue"

    the sad thing is how often this works...
  • WHY on earth would we want those? Hell, let MS patent 'em.

    --bdj

  • by Anonymous Coward
    As long as they can keep "Installing driver for unknown device.", because we all know how much sense that makes.
  • Actually, here in holland we have an ISP called world online.
  • EnderWigginz wrote:
    "I guess we can only hope that the justice system doesnt get screwed with extremist appointees... i think that there are going to be a large amount of privacy and free speech debates. we definately need some strict constitutionalists in there...


    I'll agree with Dr. Wiggnz that we need some strict Constitutionalists if we are to defend free speech rights and privacy, but remember, that is a position that requires some extrapolation to take -- nowwhere, for instance, is a 'right to privacy' outlined in the Constitution, and many people clamor *against* 'strict Constitutionalists' on the basis that they would try to inhibit free speech. (See examples below.)

    And the difference between a strict Constitutionalist and an extremist is that the first (to those who support it) is a positive term and the second is nearly always pejorative unless used by people who know that *other* people are using it pejoratively. Without getting into whether you like his views (those I've read I have liked, but I'm no expert on his entire body of work), consider whether you consider Robert Bork a) "an extremist" or b) "a strict Constitutionalist," both
    of which he might agree with (I would).

    How about Patrick Henry?

    Barry Goldwater? ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.")

    The other thing to consider is that freedom of speech is a complex thing. I think it would be silly if AOL got the trademark for "You've got mail," both because similar phrasing has been used in other pre-AOL systems for many years and because it is a simple descriptive sentence.

    I'm suprized that "Buddy List" though got nixed, and if I were AOL I'd feel cheated ... trademarking doesn't prevent generic use in non-commerical areas (I could write email and say "hey, you're on my buddy list, eh?" but I couldn't start an email service and give the option "Create a new Buddy List!" That is, if the phrase *were* protectable)

    Just some thoughts -

    timothy

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