April 16, 2007

But is it a recursive combination?

In yesterday's Dilbert, a company lawyer explains to the pointy-haired boss:

I did a trademark search on all of the excellent product names you suggested.
Every one of them is taken.
So I did a search on the names that weren't so great.
Those are taken too.
Then I checked on the names iCrud, iPuke, EatDirtAndDie, and DefectiveProduct.
All taken.

has pioneered the unspeakable brand, but I don't think I've ever encountered an unprintable brand, so Dilbert is pushing the envelope here. Perhaps this is why some branding firms are eager to hire linguists these days.

[Update 4/17/2007 -- Peter B. writes:

I'm a lawyer in Philadelphia who occasionally gets involved with intellectual property issues though this has not been a big part of my practice for years. I read Language Log pretty regularly and saw your entry about Dilbert yesterday. You might be interested to know that Harley-Davidson famously (at least in the IP realm) tried in the 1990s to obtain a U.S. trademark on their exhaust sound, though they eventually withdrew the application in the face of opposition by competitors. See, for example, here and here; the second link has a little discussion of precedents for trademarks in sounds (think of the N-B-C jingle, as the article notes). The trademark application is supposedly reproduced at http://www.lectlaw.com/files/inp14.htm. Some other types of trademark subject-matter are briefly described at http://www.bitlaw.com/trademark/devices.html.

I love the blog. I read the New Yorker article on the Pirahã the other day and was very happy to see the blog provide links to the Dan Everett articles and the intervening response (though I could not print the response; some kind of font problem). I do not have professional linguistic training, so you will understand that it will be a struggle for me to get through these articles. It will ultimately be an imperfect effort on my part, but the outside reading I do -- a lot in recent years in evolutionary biology -- makes this stuff completely absorbing for me. I'm traveling this week, and packed those three articles, as well as the Pullum & Rogers piece on Animal Pattern-Learning Experiments (which has a hilarious opening sentence!), for some relaxing bedtime reading. We'll see how much I actually read . . . . A long time ago I did a Ph.D. in Music Theory, and I have to say that my reading in recent years is in some ways causing me to rethink, and find a richness, in some musical-cognitive issues that I never really appreciated before.

Now that you mention it, I dimly recall reading something about the Harley-Davidson exhaust-sound case; and it makes sense that if tunes and even musical motifs can be intellectual property, so in principle could be a "combination of grunts and squeaks"...]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 16, 2007 06:18 AM