IE? Indo-European/Internet Explorer

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Tue Apr 2 17:31:08 UTC 2002

I hope Bethany Dumas will weigh in on this as well, since she is a lawyer and
I am not. I do teach a course on language and law, however; what I am
responding below is based on readings that I have done for the class. If any
lawyers out there have any corrections to what I am suggesting, I would
appreciate it. This is not legal advice--which I am not qualified to give. It
is a simply summary of the scholarship on the subject as I have come to
understand it.

My understanding is that, if "Microsoft's lawyers have just notified eGroups

the unauthorised use of the abbreviation "IE" on the Internet (regardless of

its actual reference) will qualify as copyright infringement and all

necessary legal steps will be taken to discourage it," they are merely
issuing a toothless warning that the trademark owner (as represented by their
attorneys) feel they need to utter in order to vigorously "police" their
trademark. Ironically, the only legitimate "necessary legal steps" that they
can take "to discourage" the use of _IE_ to refer to "indo-European" is to
write such letters. Technically, I suppose, the owners could sue anyone who
uses "IE" and "PIE" to refer to "Indo-European." Anyone can file a frivolous
lawsuit. However, everything that I have read indicates that Micxrosoft's
attronreys would almost certainly not file such a frivolous lawsuit; and if
they did do so they would lose, for two or three reasons.

First, the use of IE and PIE long predates their trademark. IE and PIE are
commonplace and (within linguistics) famous abbreviations; one cannot prevent
anyone from using a word in a long-established way simply because one has
acquired a trademark or service for that word. If that were the case, then
anyone named Ford would have to change his name, and my friend Tommy Aol
could never send an e-mail message with his name in it. We would not have to
stop eating apples, but we would have to start calling them something else
(perhaps "pumms" or "ringos"?)

Second, trademarks are normally only protected within the frame of reference
of the goods and services themselves. Thus "Lexus" the automoblie cannot keep
"Lexis" the online journalism cite from using the term "Lexis" (though I
guess they tried and failed). Zippo lighters and Zip-Drives and Zip-Lock bags
continue to exist side by side. There may be some exceptions to this rule
where the mark is famous enough, especially where the two classes of goods or
services are closely parallel (thus MacDonalds restaurants prevented Quality
Inns from using the term "McSleep" for a chain of motels, thus establishing
that MacDonalds owns "Mac" in the food-and-lodging business) and/or
especially where juries can be persuaded that there is some kind of intent to
piggy-back for profit on the good name of another company. But clearly, when
linguists write "IE" they are not trying to remind people of Internet
Explorer -- let alone do it for any monetary gain.

Finally, it is my understanding that one can recover damages for
misappropriation of trademark only if one uses the mark actually to label
goods or services, especially if one does so for monetary gain. If an author
or web-page builder uses _IE_ and _PIE_ to refer to "Indo-European" and
"Proto-Indo-European," the user is not LABELING goods or services but rather
merely REFERRING to a scientific concept. I am told that dictionary makers
sometimes get warning letters from the attorneys for firms telling the
lexicographers that they must desist from indicating that their trademark
(e.g., _Band-Aid_ is the term that Landau illustrates in his book
DICTIONARIES) is sometimes used metaphorically. To my knowledge, no
dictionary maker has ever been sued for such a practice, but they continue to
get warnings from attorneys who can then later use such letters as evidence
in court that they are vigorously policing their trademarks if and when a
lawsuit with a real infringer ever takes place. Trademarks are subject to a
use-it-or-lose-it rule, and the more that the owners can do to show that they
actually use it and defend it and work to make it famous, the stronger their
cases in court can be.

In a message dated 4/2/2002 11:16:17 AM, carljweber at MSN.COM writes:

<< The following just came up on cybalist at , the Indo-European

discussion group.

Carl Jeffrey Weber,




In 1998, Microsoft Corp., accused (oh, how unfairly) of stealing the name

"Internet Explorer" from Synet Inc., agreed to pay $5 million to Synet's

trustees to end a legal battle over the use of the name. In return,

Microsoft now owns Synet's trademark registrations for the name "Internet

Explorer" in the state of Illinois. This includes the abbreviation "IE",

which is regarded by Microsoft as a copyrighted product and a legally

protected brand name. Microsoft's lawyers have just notified eGroups that

the unauthorised use of the abbreviation "IE" on the Internet (regardless of

its actual reference) will qualify as copyright infringement and all

necessary legal steps will be taken to discourage it. We are therefore

requested to invent a new abbreviation for "Indo-European" or to use the

unabbreviated term. "PIE" cannot be used either, since it has also been

copyrighted as the abbreviated form of of "Personalized Internet Experience"

("The Microsoft PIE").

Piotr >>

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