Joe Pickett Joe_Pickett at HMCO.COM
Fri Jun 2 16:02:03 UTC 2000

I've seen both threatening letters and imploring letters from trademark lawyers,
though the majority I would call letters bearing implied threats of legal
action.  The letters are often very strongly worded.  Bluff or bluster, maybe,
but trouble nonetheless for the persons editing a dictionary.

I would second Jesse's remarks-- it usually comes down to a question of how much
time the lexicographer wants to spend defending the wording of a particular
entry. In my experience, the legal department of the publishing company often
gets involved, and this just complicates things because now the lexicographer is
dealing with two sets of lawyers rather than one.  Invariably, though, the legal
department wants the lexicographer to take the path that involves the fewest
complications (and the least amount of legal work), and this invariably means
revising the definition to "A trademark used for . . . " or dropping the entry
entirely.  Trademark lawyers can also insist on specific editorial treatments.
The American Heritage Dictionary recently dropped the entry for Tarzan, a
trademark held by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, simply because we did not
want to accommodate all of the editorial requirements of the estate's lawyers.

The Third Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary devotes a large amount of
space to demonstating the generic use of many trademarks (lowercased, as verbs,
in figurative uses, etc) by using quotations.  I doubt any commercial dictionary
will do the same.

Fighting the general battle in defense of defining "generic" trademarks as
vocabulary items (instead of as trademarks) would require big-time resources and
time committments, assuming any publisher would be willing to take such a stand.
After all, copyright issues are not that different, and publishers own
trademarks too.

It's easy to say that, because no dictionary publisher has ever been
successfully sued over the treatment of a trademark in a dictionary,
lexicographers should pay no mind to the letters from trademark lawyers and edit
trademarks as they deem best.  But the realities of working in a real
institution make such practice virtually impossible.

Joe Pickett
Executive Editor
Houghton Mifflin Company

Thomas Paikeday <t.paikeday at> on 06/02/2000 11:19:36 AM

Please respond to t.paikeday at

cc:    (bcc: Joe Pickett/Trade/hmco)
Subject:  Re: metadata?

> In my experience, the letters that trademark lawyers send out to dictionary
> editors are not so much "threatening" as imploring, for reasons already given
> here by others. This is in reference to Allan and Jesse's comments.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list