There is a silent corporate war going on right now that most people are completely unaware of, yet it impacts everyone. Major companies are in a desperate race to trademark as many words, phrases, images, sounds, and other forms of intellectual property as possible – even everyday terms. This intellectual property land grab has major implications for business and innovation going forward. In this article, we’ll explore how corporations are abusing trademarks, the reasons behind this trend, and why it will end up costing consumers and small businesses alike.
The Extent of Absurd Trademarks
You might be shocked to learn just how common ordinary words and phrases have been trademarked by corporations. For example, the term “superhero” is jointly owned by DC and Marvel. This means no one else can use the word “superhero” for their own superhuman characters without permission. Even a simple phrase like “that’s hot” was trademarked by Paris Hilton in 2007.
Facebook has gone so far as to trademark the word “face.” Any business with “face” in its name could get sued by Facebook for infringement. They also registered trademarks for common social media terms like “friend,” “like,” and “wall.”
It’s not just words either. Companies are trademarking images, gestures, and even colors. UPS has a trademark on its signature brown trucks. Tiffany & Co. has a trademark on their iconic robin’s egg blue jewelry boxes. MGM secured a trademark for their roaring lion logo back in the 1920s.
While some trademarks make sense, like the Nike swoosh or the McDonald’s golden arches, others are a clear abuse of the system to limit competition. Corporations are playing dirty to corner the market on intellectual property.
Why Companies Are Rushing to Trademark
There are several key reasons driving this desperate corporate race to trademark anything and everything:
- Free Real Estate – Once a trademark is secured, it lasts forever as long as renewal fees are paid every 10 years. Owning a trademark blocks others from using it, creating an untouchable competitive advantage.
- Legal Leverage – With millions of trademarks, big companies have built up massive arsenals. If sued, they can retaliate with their own lawsuits. This mutually assured destruction deters lawsuits.
- Future Proofing – When new technologies emerge, companies rush to trademark related terms. If it takes off, they control that intellectual property.
- Easy Money – Companies stockpile trademarks then sell them or license them for revenue. Some even trademark stuff to sell back to their own companies!
- AI Enforcement – AI can monitor for trademark infringement at scale. Owning trademarks simplifies takedown notices.
- AI Training – Current AIs are trained on data that likely contains other companies’ trademarks. Owning trademarks protects against misuse.
With these incentives, it’s no wonder corporations are racing faster than ever to turn common words and images into private property. Consumers suffer from less choice and competition while small businesses get squeezed out.
The Hidden Corporate War for Intellectual Property
While patents apply to inventions and copyrights protect creative works, trademarks relate specifically to branding. This makes them the most powerful for securing permanent ownership over language, imagery, and ideas.
Major tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have stashed away massive stockpiles of trademarks and patents. Although they aren’t actively suing each other left and right, this intellectual property arsenal helps suppress real competition. It’s mutually assured destruction.
Some companies exist almost entirely to profit from this system. Intellectual Ventures is one example. They buy up patents just to threaten lawsuits against anyone perceived to be infringing on them. The ex-Microsoft exec who founded it calls his $5 billion company an “invention company.” Critics call it a patent troll.
Even the biggest tech companies tread carefully to avoid mutually destructive clashes. For instance, in 2011, Apple sued Samsung for copying the iPhone design with their Android phones. Samsung then countersued over patent infringement. After years in court, it was basically a wash. Both agreed to drop their cases to avoid further legal battles.
AI Accelerating the Trademark Gold Rush
As AI-generated content gets more advanced, a trademark gold rush is accelerating. Companies are scrambling to snatch up intellectual property related to anything AI might eventually impact. Bloomberg forecasts AI to be a $1 trillion industry within a decade.
The trademark office reports a threefold increase in trademark applications in just the last 10 years. Law firm HoganLovells says trademark applications for blockchain tech surged 1,500% between 2016-2018. Expect a similar spike for AI as businesses try to stake their claims.
Our increasingly digital world also makes trademark infringement easier to detect and enforce. AI tools can constantly scour sites for potential violations. They can match new images and content against a database of trademarks in real time. This will make it much harder for individuals and small businesses to hide perceived infringement in the future.
Trademarks were intended to protect company branding and logos. But greedy corporations have twisted trademarks into weapons to own common words, phrases, and images. This hidden intellectual property war has enabled anti-competitive behavior and abuse of the legal system. Consumers are left with fewer choices while small businesses struggle against monopolistic titans armed with AI-powered trademark missiles. For now, this sinister corporate race continues to scoop up everything not nailed down for exclusive use.
The key points:
- Companies are rushing to trademark everyday words, images, sounds, and expressions. Even phrases like “that’s hot” get trademarked.
- Massive stockpiles of trademarks suppress competition. Big tech wields them to prevent lawsuits. Some companies exist just to profit from this.
- AI will accelerate this trend as its projected to be a multi-trillion dollar market. AI can also detect trademark infringement at scale.
- Consumers suffer from less competition and choice. Small businesses can’t contend with large corporations armed with unlimited trademarks and AI enforcement.
So next time you use a common phrase, post a picture with a logo, or describe your friend as a “superhero,” keep in mind you may be infringing on a big company’s precious trademark they paid pennies to register. This hidden intellectual property war continues to escalate across industries, dragging generic terms into private ownership.