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Fun from the intellectual property police (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Alas, poor Yorick.

I may have known him, Horatio, but I don’t know my Shakespeare as well as I thought I did. Several weeks ago, in reference to gripes about technology becoming pervasive in our lives, I said the fault lies not in our technologies but in ourselves.

I ascribed the quote to Hamlet. It should have been Cassius, who was speaking to Brutus at the time. Fortunately, IS Survivalists are a literate lot. My thanks to all who wrote. Just as fortunately, the Great Bard is in the great beyond and can’t sue for misuse of his intellectual property.

While we’re catching up on the subject of intellectual property:

  • In January I described the absurdity of Warner Brothers legal department threatening children with lawsuits for putting up Harry Potter fan club sites on the Web. It appears Warner Brothers isn’t the only company with out-of-control brand police. DaimlerChrysler is seriously considering a lawsuit against General Motors. Why? GM’s new Hummer H2 has seven slots in its grille, infringing on the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s grille slot count.
  • Inspired by DaimlerChrysler, Sesame Street filed a class action suit on behalf of two regular sponsors for misuse of the letter M and the number 3. (Not really, but the way things are going, it could happen.)
  • If you still don’t think intellectual property concerns are out of hand, The Register (www.theregister.co.uk) reports Australia has passed strict new laws that forbid forwarding e-mail without the author’s permission, out of copyright infringement concerns. Once again, the law exceeds satire’s ability to ridicule.
  • Sometimes the brand police need to be more alert: Who on earth came up with Microsoft’s ad campaign for Windows 2000? Filling half the ad with a Windows 95 Blue Screen of Death does show a key benefit of Windows 2000. But doesn’t this do just a wee bit o’damage to Microsoft’s overall image?
  • A column last July predicted Amazon.com would have to open retail stores to survive. Close: Various rumors are floating around about Amazon.com alliances. The first was WalMart — an odd choice, logical from an internally focused process perspective but illogical when thinking from a customer perspective — the WalMart and Amazon.com shopping ambiances have little to do with each other.

    The most recent Amazon.com alliance rumor is Best Buy. That makes a bit more sense — Best Buy even carries a few books in its stores these days — but still seems strained. I still expect Amazon.com and Borders to merge one of these days. That marriage has compelling logic — Borders.com has nowhere near the mindshare of Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble; Amazon.com still needs bricks to complement its clicks.

  • Okay, it’s old news. Last July, in an interview, a spokesman for eBay told an LA Times reporter that its fast-paced Internet business will be ruined if it is subjected to laws meant to govern the brick-and-mortar world. Not that many years ago, a company might be embarrassed to suggest that obeying the law is a problem for it. Bad for the brand, you know. Now, in the BIG/GAS era (Business Is Great/Government and Academics are Stupid), company spokespeople have declared open season on all laws restraining corporate behavior, no matter how egregious. So don’t be surprised if (to take a ridiculous example) power companies insist we need more research before labeling CO2 a greenhouse gas. What’s that you say? They already have? Oh.
  • Last but not least, a branding conundrum. Sharp has announced its plans for a new Linux-based PDA. This should worry Microsoft. Why? It’s a flank attack on the desktop. Any PDA can coexist with all other PDAs so long as it syncs, so unlike the desktop there’s no market barrier for Linux PDAs. An installed base of Linux PDAs, means a population of buyers accustomed to using Linux applications. Their purchase of Linux on the desktop is an obvious next step.

What can Microsoft do to counter this threat? It could market its own Linux product. If Microsoft stayed in character, the only Linux component of its Linux would be the label. Which would lead to an ethical paradox for the Linux community: If it protects the Linux brand, it acknowledges the legitimacy of intellectual property ownership. If it fails to protect it, Microsoft redefines Linux as it chooses.

This is sheer speculation, of course, but it’s fun to imagine Eric Raymond suing to defend the ownership of intellectual property.