Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Trademarking the Past

A UK gaming company has attempted to trademark characters in one of their products.  Now it isn't unusual  for a company to protect its intellectual property, which includes trade names, but this instance stinks.

I'm not disagreeing with the concept of protecting intellectual property - it is well documented that the electrical appliance company Hoover failed to notice that people in the UK were using their trade name generically to mean to vacuum clean regardless of which make of vacuum cleaner they were using.  Consequently it has entered the UK lexicon as 'to hoover' meaning 'to vacuum clean'.  I guess they started to get a bit sniffy about it at some point, probably about the point that their name being a common term in the UK stopped meaning that sales increased as they challenged it in court and lost.  The term hoover is now considered generic.

The intellectual property that the UK gaming company, Games Workshop, are attempting to protect is the phrase 'Space Marines', based on the fact that a game they have been selling since 1995 has included characters called by this title.  Even if they had coined the phrase, which they didn't, then it would still seem to be unreasonable what they have attempted, but seeing as the 1932 short story 'Captain Brinks and the Space Marines' was published way before they used the term and also acknowledging that Space Marines were used in the 1959 book 'Starship Troopers' it seems a little heavy handed and incredibly presumptuous that they have initiated legal action to stop a Sci Fi author, MCA Hogarth, form publishing her 2011 novel 'Spots the Space Marine' on the basis that they own the Space Marine trademark.

Their intervention resulted in Amazon ceasing listing the book for a while.  The author has reported that she has been unable to defend her position against Games Workshop because, well, she's just an author eking a living from her writing whereas Games Workshop is a pretty cash rich company.

Thankfully, and in part I suspect due to the many Twitter, Facebook and blog post entries about this story, including an article in the Huffington Post and on the BBC, Amazon have reinstated listing Ms Hogarth's book which, for UK readers, can be viewed here and for US, here.  I'm sure my friends looking in other Amazon stores will find it without me having to list every single one.

Games Workshop believe they have the right to trademark the phrase which clearly they didn't invent, not by a long chalk, because they have decided to enter the world of digital books and are releasing Space Marine stories.  Perhaps they'd like to trademark every word and phrase used in all of their instructions and retrospectively attempt to have virtually every book in print delisted as well!  You may note that I haven't attempted to provide any links to Games Workshop or its products, especially its digital books.  That is intentionally mean of me.  But if you'd like to read MCA Hogarth's web page, you can find it here.

Games Workshop may have trademarked the term 'Space Marines' but they are wrong to protect their intellectual property in this way.  It is a pretty generic term using two very common words in literature, especially in fiction.  I think every  Sci Fi author should seriously consider using the term 'Space Marines' in their next release, just to make the point.  I'm thinking of releasing' Space Marines and the Jumped Up Gaming Company' as my next foray.


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