Monday, December 30, 2013

The Self Importance of Registered Trademarks

My first memory of encountering trademarks is on cereal boxes as a kid. Over breakfast I would read the box, do whatever puzzle is on the back, and notice the sprinkling of ® and ™ symbols over "Nabisco", "Shreddies" and the like. I imagine it fueled my lifelong interest in typography, as an eight year old I certainly had no clue what they were actually for!

Sadly, today I mostly encounter these marks as a symbol of ignorant self-importance. The proud display of trademark symbols proclaims a belief that success is a matter of legal procedure and large commercial deals: the way things used to be. And more often, it reeks of a tone-deaf self importance.

I think most of us are perfectly smart enough to understand that the Academy Awards, that is, the Oscars®, are a thing because they're a movie industry institution. Furthermore, the institution long pre-dates the obsession with protecting the brand. Rendering "Oscars" all the time with the ® serves only to underline the massive commercial interests behind the entertainment industry, and distance them from the customers. Ironically, the same people without whom they wouldn't have an industry at all.

The situation gets even worse in the world of enterprise software. Check out the screenshot I took of the TIBCO home page, and these guys aren't even the worst offenders.

There are legal reasons to protect one's trademarks, but there are ways and means to do it. Companies with a deal more self confidence don't feel the need to sprinkle them everywhere, see Oracle or Microsoft's home pages, for instance.

Marketing is a conversation. I always think of it as a dinner party. Nobody wants to talk to the person who can only talk about themselves, especially when their first move is to proclaim how important they are. At the end of the day, sprinkling your page with ® and ™ is just that. Another case of "if you have to say it, it probably isn't true."