Thursday, November 04, 2004


Here's a commentary from EContent magazine about trademarks, namely that of Instant Messenger from AOL. Supposedly, it's OK to use instant messenging as a verb but not as a noun.

The author says:
I'm wondering what AOL gains from this move. I understand why Xerox didn't want its name to be used willy-nilly by every copycat. I get how Kleenex wanted to be a brand that made tissues for the face and other body parts, not a generic term used even when others' products got sold. But how does it behoove AOL to trademark two words that have entered the common parlance, in a particular order, at a given time in our communication history? I can say AOL Instant Messenger and I can say Instant Messenger if I'm referring to AOL's product, but the strange part is that I can only say "instant messenger" (even with no initial caps) if I mean AIM. The company views the use of these two words in reference to a broader category as an infringement on its intellectual property.

This is like Kleenex sending out cease-and-desist orders to everyone that referred to facial tissue not as Kleenex, but as "facial tissue" itself. I mean where would that have left a company like Puffs? With snot rag? Maybe not, but would they have had to write around it with something catchy like "tissue that is used on the face or nose area"? Perhaps they would have felt compelled to coin their own term like "Paperchief."
Of course, AOL would argue that the only reason "instant messenger" has entered our language is because AOL brought it.

AOL is responsible for Instant Messenger. Kleenex was never resonsible for Facial Tissue.

I'm not big on crazy trademark rules and cease-and-desist orders. But this one seems pretty simple.


At 9:08 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Peter Lynn said...

I don't know about that. It's not like theirs is the only IM service. What about ICQ?

At 9:08 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Peter Lynn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:39 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Here's what the story says on that: "While AOL does lay claim to the intellectual origins of instant messaging, it does so through conquest more than creativity. The technology was invented by three young Israeli men who had a pet project to create instant, easy, Internet communication, which they called ICQ (for I Seek You). ... Through the viral marketing miracle that is the Internet, ICQ got 12 million downloads. Eventually, those millions led to many more, in the form of a $400-million buy-out of all Mirabilis assets by AOL in 1997. AOL won a 2002 patent on instant messaging systems and has gone a long way to make IM (verb) a fixture on desktops and mobile devices everywhere."

I can't vouch for that information, but I see no reason not to believe it.

My main argument here, poorly stated, is that the author's logic is flawed. She doesn't think it behooves AOL to to trademark Instant Messenger because that's just a product, not AOL's brand name. But she fails to see that Kleenex is just a product made by Kimberly-Clark.

Oftentimes the product is bigger than the maker.

At 10:58 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Bill said...

There's Instant Messenger with an E-N-G and there's instant messaging with an A-G. People don't really say "instant messenger" generically, do they?

At 11:29 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

There's instant messenger and instant messager (750 to 0)

At 1:54 AM, November 05, 2004, Blogger Bill said...

I'm with the trademark police on this one. Instant Messenger is proprietary; it's not a lowercaseable synonym that a non-"Kleenex"-using person would use for "instant-messaging software."

At 2:17 AM, November 05, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

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