[University of Washington] School of Law Professor Sean O’Connor, guest blogging at Legal Satyricon, writes about AT&T’s trademark registration of the bars indicating cell phone signal strength (depicted left).
“The bars are purely functional representations of the strength of cell service and a standardized one at that,” he writes. “If anything were unworthy of being captured as a trademark, this should have been it.
Ok, well, maybe not anything, but the point is well taken. More from O’Connor:
Fortunately, the PTO seems to have come to its senses and is going to cancel the mark. But in the meantime, at&t continues to paste billboard all over the country with the “More bars in more places” campaign and the bars logo with “®” attached. I understand that until the mark is fully cancelled, they probably have a right to keep using the “®”. But I think it is shady and misleading at best, given the cancellation proceedings underway.
Well, you ain’t canceled till you’re canceled, but read his post, because he does a great job of addressing how corporations use dubious claims of IP rights as very sharp elbows to crowd out others for market position. “You have to admire that kind of Machiavellian cunning,” he says. “And it’s a testimony of the continuing power of high cost lawyers and blanket marketing campaigns.”
Well, all right, but it’s testimony to a damned good cell signal too, Professor!
After all, take it from a T-Mobile customer — you don’t see T-Mobile trying to “own” the icon for robust cell coverage. They were reduced to trying to corner the market for magenta.