Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Facebook removes Scrabulous game; an authorized version of Scrabble to be launched in August

Facebook has reportedly removed its “Scrabulous” application, after Hasbro and Mattel filed a lawsuit against the creators (Rajat and Jayant Argawalla from India) of Scrabulous for copyright infringement. Technically this is a copyright action involving the notion of derivative works and fair use, but it’s obvious that there could be trademark questions as well.

Mattel (and its publisher Electronic Arts) has offered a legally authorized version of Scrabble for Facebook, to be implemented in August 2008.

The Scrabulous controversy was first discussed on this blog March 22, 2008.

Facebook users said that the Scrabulous game enhanced their social networking experience, in a way that went beyond the experience of the game itself.

A typical news story appears in Digital Journal, here. That story maintains that Facebook had received a (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) DMCA “safe harbor” takedown notice in advance of the litigation.

Even so, the Scrabulous link at Facebook was still working this morning (July 30) when I tried it around 9 AM EDT. The direct link is this.

Aug. 1, 2008

The Washington Post Express reports (on p. 10) that Facebook has reinstated a legally acceptable version of this program called "Wordscraper" with different graphics. It may well have the official Mattel product soon, however.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Roger Ebert keeps the idiomatic "thumbs up" as a trademark

In a bizarre development of corporate namesakes, the Walt Disney company will take “Siskel & Ebert” and then “Ebert & Roper” in a “new direction”, and Roger Ebert will no longer be connected to it. Yet, the studio will apparently use his name.

At the same time, however, Robert Ebert is keeping the “thumbs up” or “two thumbs up” (or “thumbs down”) phrases as trademarks for movie ratings. A fairly common idiomatic expression in English becomes and stays a trademark.

Siskel and Ebert had started as “Sneak Previews” in 1975. Siskel died of a brain tumor in 1999 at 53. Ebert has battled salivary gland cancer in recent years.

Ebert has always been known for innovative reviews that tended to favor smaller, independent films before they themselves became big business. A couple other of his favorite movies were “Wolfen” and “The Year of Living Dangerously.” He seemed to like originality in story telling, a willingness to take risks with the “three part” structure so fundamental to screenwriting.

Ebert’s account of the change appears on his own site in a Statement here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Online Education Database lists Martin Schwimmer's "The Trademark Blog"

I wanted to make notice of Martin Schwimmer’s “The Trademark Blog,” link here.

I noticed several interesting items on it immediately. For example, there is a case in Alabama of a textbook company that is trying to prohibit used copies of its book from being sold. Imagine how that fits into the law! (I wonder how Amazon would react to that. Sales or residuals of used books is just part of the book business; as an author, I live with that.)

But what’s even more interesting is the text of the Petition to cancel the Facebook trademark registration (specific link called "Trademark Practice" and is here), a case that I discussed earlier on this blog, as well as in my book reviews and “information technology jobs” blogs (see my Profile for links). My own take is that trying to combat what sounds to me like “reverse engineering” bucks the trend of progress, and that I hope that the parties settle amicably – and move on to better things (like indie movie making).

Schwimmer’s blog was mentioned on a long list published yesterday by the Online Education Database (discussed today in my main blog).

I set up my own blog about trademark because of my concern about trademark and domain names, exacerbated by the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006 (originally proposed in 2005, and signed into law in Oct. 2006 by President Bush). The details of the legislation are discussed particularly in June 2007 on this blog.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

USPTO will host inventor's conference

The United States Patent and Trademark Office will hold its 13th Annual Inventor’s Conference on the downtown Alexandria Conference (fairly close to the King Street Metro on Aug 8-9 2008. The web reference is here.

This may be an opportune moment to give a link point out the differences in the legal definitions of patent, trademark and servicemark, and copyright here.

On this page there is a link to a video that explains the Patent Office (particularly to perspective employment applicants) and includes a section “What is intellectual property?” There is another longer section where employees explain the work of the USPTO. The video requires the latest Real Player and some machines may require automatic updates for the video to work. The USPTO in insists that among government agencies, "we're different."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Company associated (at least tangentially) with founding of Facebook was in interesting trademark case

Having read Aaron Greenspan’s intriguing book on his place in the birth of Facebook (itself a matter of controversy) and read about his own trademark battle, I looked a little further.

I found a press release from June 2004 from its site “Think Declares Resounding Victory in Trademark Dispute”, link here. The other party was a company named H. Co. Computer Products and this time the dispute was settled by administrative law judges within the USPTO (in Alexandra VA.) From a reading of the press release, it would sound as if there was some thought about future confusion, a concept codified into law with the 2006 Trademark Dilution Revision Act (discussed in detail on this blog in June 2007).

Think Computer offers a sublink called "Common Room," which as of today is undergoing renovation, but is seems to offer a variety of innovative services including literary agent submission (I wonder if this includes movie screenplays!) and specialized "professional" social networking, which employers may want to see their associates engage in (as I noted in a July 7 entry on the IT Job Market blog -- see my Profile). Because of my own interests (including a future screenplay submission) I'll watch this link to see what the company does with it.

My book review is here.

I noted in the review that variations of the words “think computer” have occurred in the trade and domain names of several businesses or entities (links given in the review). Because the name comprises common English words, it is more likely that other entities will want to use them. They may sound less distinguishing than a trade name that includes someone’s name (like Greenspan). I was able to figure out which domain went with which business in a couple of minutes, but that presumes some computer and Internet domain knowledge. Has trademark law evolved to the point that it is willing to assume that most consumers are able to figure out which businesses do which? Maybe an administrative law judge would consider the nature of the product or service being branded: a prospective customer for any of these entities would probably be computer-literate enough not to be confused. A prospective buyer of home furniture would not necessary be as literate.

I easily found the USPTO registration with a TARR search at USPTO. The mailing address (Palo Alto CA) on serial 78100628 matches that on Think Computer’s website. The registration includes an interesting disclaimer to the effect that no claim is made for exclusive use of the word “computer” in a wordmark, but the combination of “think computer” is presumably exclusive. The visitor may want to try various wordmarks on the TESS database at (Free Form Search or Advanced Search) and see how the site behaves and how similar marks, often in unrelated businesses, may come up for a particular search string.

I don't think there is any connection between these computer companies and "ThinkFilm" which is a Canadian distributor for independent films.

But, let's say, the "kids" settle this "feud" amicably and make a movie about the formation of Facebook. Maybe they throw in some material about "reputation defender." I'll help them write the screenplay. And guess who should distribute the (still hypothetical) movie in places like Landmark Theaters: "ThinkFilm."

A link to my Wordpress overview of trademark law bills and opinions is here.