Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Patrick Nielsen Hayden writes to set things straight.

Neil! You're perpetuating a fallacy!

You can google, xerox, drink cokes, and use kleenexes to your heart's
content in anything you write. And you don't need to festoon your
manuscripts with (R) and (TM) symbols, either. The idea that anyone
can successfully "sue" you over this is a vulgar misunderstanding
perpetuated by the arrogance and paranoia of trademark lawyers.
Don't help them out.

What trademark law enforces is Coca-Cola's right to do business under
their own name. What it prevents is you or me selling drinks and
calling them "Coke." Where questions arise is when people wish to
sell unlike goods and services under arguably similar names. If you
opened a restaurant under the name "Coca-Cola" and the Atlanta-based
beverage corporation objected, the courts would probably back them
up. If you sold bituminous rocks as "coke," they might not.

But you can do absolutely anything you want in a short story or a
novel, and don't let anyone tell you differently. Show me the
novelist who's ever lost a lawsuit because someone in one of their
books made a xerox or drank a coke.

More sensibleness abounds at Patrick's blogger, over at


First of all I'm a big fan, and longtime reader of the blog. I admit this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction message, which is in response to the Google trademark post on the journal, but it seemed like a better choice than walking around grumpy all day.

I think that the trademark issue is a complicated one, and an argument can be made for both sides. I do, however, believe that the debate would be more productive if the initial facts were correct. If you look at the original letter (linked from slashdot) there was no threat of lawsuit - in fact it was pretty polite.

As to which side of the argument I fall on, I think that Google would be in trouble pretty quickly if they didn't defend their trademark ("New! SearchEngineX! We google better than Google!"). However, if they try to change a single line in Pattern Recognition I'll be the first to throw stones. There has to be a middle ground in there somewhere.

I'm not much of a writer myself, and so I hope this comes across in the spirit I intend, which is all good-natured bewilderment and no fist-shaking growliness.

Thanks for listening,

You're right as well. Mea wossname...