An article in the New York Times takes a look at the legal battles between major computer companies over use of pairs of common words.
Microsoft is suing Apple, and Apple is suing Amazon, all over the right to use a simple two-word phrase: “app store.” Apple got there first, introducing its App Store in July 2008 as a marketplace for mobile applications. In January, Microsoft disputed Apple’s trademark claim, arguing that “app store” had already become a generic expression. And last week, Amazon announced its own “Appstore” for Google’s Android devices, prompting an infringement suit from Apple.
"Facebook" strikes me as a less obvious use of a pair of words than "App store". But Facebook has actually filed trademarks for "like" and "wall" among other words. See the article for details. This all seems like a big problem that will probably grow much worse. What to do?
Modest proposal: Make up new words to replace commonly used words and then create the equivalent of an open source license for each word where the word can be be used by anyone without fear of trademarks. If we created enough different words and also extended the license to include all combinations of open source words then we could have things like App Stores (perhaps renamed Ilg Blerps) where lots of companies could name their similar things by the same name. We'd all know the Amazon Ilg Blerp, the Google Ilg Blerp and the RIM Ilg Blerp sell the same kinds of things. That strikes me as incredibly handy.
The licensing model should probably be tweaked to allow use of open source words in copyrighted novels and news stories. If one uses 100 or 200 or 1000 (take your pick, we can debate) words in a row then that combination could be copyrightable. Though we'd want to avoid copyright on word orders derivable from sorts or other mathematical manipulations of words.
What do you think of this idea? Do you want the ability to use the same word pair to describe similar things sold by or owned by different companies? Do you see this as a valuable innovation in human languages?