Trademarks and Domain Names

Trademarks (marks of tradesmen) were used for many, many years to identify the source of items and to distinguish one tradesperson’s crafts from another (like Revere’s name or symbol on a pewter piece). The idea of trademarks was to avoid confusion on the part of the purchaser, and much of trademark law as I understand it rests on determining confusion between marks. Today the definition of a trademark says that it “…identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods and services of one party from those of others” (Basic Facts About Trademarks, US Patent and Trademark Office). The marks were originally symbols like boars, hog’s heads, red labels, black labels, lions, etc., and eventually words and names.

To avoid confusion, trademarks had to be unique and not confusing within their sphere, like the naming of drugs. Therefore, Cadillac cars were only made by General Motors, but there was no confusion with Cadillac dog food. Madonna the singer, Madonna the hospital, Madonna the religious icon – no confusion. Smith the college, the person, the company. Bricklin the car, Bricklin the software, Bricklin the person. Each namespace (cars, dog food, singers, hospitals, people, etc.) had its own way to keep the names unique within its space. When you file for a trademark you must specify a Class of goods or services. (E.g., Class 7 is Machinery, Class 8 is Hand Tools.) You can’t register a mark on “everything that ever exists”.

The problem with moving trademarks without thinking to the Internet is easy to see: convergence. We converge all namespaces that logically separate in the traditional world into one namespace in the domain same world. People used to policing their little space (cars, dog food, hand tools, whatever) now are all mixed up into one space. Entities not used to fighting for space (people, non-profits, informal organizations) re mixed in, too. Saying we’ll just use normal trademark practices to solve the problems won’t work. The checks and balances we had to keep each of the namespaces filled with unique names doesn’t work when you throw in many existing namespaces with overlapping names and no established universal way of ensuring uniqueness or reassigning names. You can only ensure uniqueness when you start from scratch and keep it unique. We must leave separate namespaces with their own ways of avoiding name confusion. Adding to the problem is that the Trademark law concept of being “confusingly similar” is too subjective to use in the fast paced world of the Internet.
Dan Bricklin - Trademarks and Domain Names (1999)

In 1979 Dan Bricklin and I wrote VisiCalc. This program took up less space on the computer than this essay does yet it helped launch the personal computer. In the 1970’s a small group of researchers set forth a very simple principle called the “End to End Argument”. The idea was very simple, put the responsibility for creating services at the edges of the network and reduce the network itself to transporting packets and sometimes even losing them. The result is the Internet. We have a simple and solvable problem with the DNS. It is frustrating to see the effort going into exacerbating problems rather than solving them.

So instead of migrating to a system of relatively meaningless handles (as surnames have done), the whole DNS community seems bent on a foolish errand — to make the DNS namespace a repository of meaning, to go head-to-head with the search engines who do a much better job of capturing meaning.

But typing these new names [Public Keys] will be difficult since they will be hard to remember and hard to type.
There should be little reason to type a URL. It’s already the case that many URLs are long. The favorites mechanism and, of course, clicking obviate the need for typing. As noted, one can type a name rather than the URL on the address line in the browser. The same search tool can be made available wherever it is useful to type a URL. One other refinement is to integrate the local address book and favorites list into this search. These are technologies that are already available and just need to be refined.
Bob Frankston - DNS Safe Haven (2001) and Information versus Telcom (2012)


Trademarks are all about branding and marketing these days. There are multitudes of ways to identify the source of a product without them.

Companies want to sell a dream, then provide the product to fit. They don’t want others to do the latter after paying for the former.

People pay silly money for a top with a giant swoosh on it. A good money maker, that!

Very true. You really need a search engine to discover an identity, but a name (read: code/index key) is still needed to refer to it thereafter. However, that name still has value, regardless of search engines.

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