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  #1  
Old 12-07-2006, 02:27 PM
Smooth Jack Smooth Jack is offline
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Can a Person Patent a Word or Phrase

I was talking to a Gene Simmons fan today. He claims that Gene Simmons has a patent for the term O.J., as in orange juice. My first thought was that he must mean copyright. Anyway, the issue raises three questions in my mind:

1. Does Gene Simmons have a patent for "O.J."?
2. Can anyone have a patent for a word, or phrase, such as "O.J."?
3. Does Gene Simmons have a copyright for "O.J."?

I searched about on the web, but can't find anything substantial.
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  #2  
Old 12-07-2006, 02:45 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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The only kind of intellectual property that is likely in a two letter abbreviation is a trade mark. So, is Gene Simmons in the business of selling something under the name "O.J."?
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  #3  
Old 12-07-2006, 02:47 PM
Sarahfeena Sarahfeena is offline
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I vaguely recall that Pat Reilly trademarked the term "threepeat" (when he was coaching the Lakers, maybe?). Became an issue here in Chicago with the Bulls threepeated twice. The word couldn't be printed on t-shirts, etc., without paying for the privilege.
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  #4  
Old 12-07-2006, 03:03 PM
Smooth Jack Smooth Jack is offline
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So, a trademark or a copyright are possible. How can a person find out it something is already trademarked?
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  #5  
Old 12-07-2006, 03:05 PM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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Patents are strictly for useful items, such as inventions and business methods. There is no "utility" in a word or phrase, so the short answer is, no, words and phrases cannot be patented. That is not to say that words and phrases cannot be otherwise protected by intellectual property laws, only that patent isn't the way it's done.
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  #6  
Old 12-07-2006, 03:08 PM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smooth Jack
So, a trademark or a copyright are possible. How can a person find out it something is already trademarked?
One can search the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that's how! Go to Trademarks on the left and you'll find the link to search their records.
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  #7  
Old 12-07-2006, 03:11 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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You can trademark (or service mark, which is essentially the same thing for a short phrase) whatever you like. To find out what's currently under trademark, you can search the trademark database at http://www.uspto.gov/

Copyright -- no. That would only apply to a longer work. Forrest J. Ackerman had a copyrighted story consisting of one letter (and a title, which isn't copyrightable), but he cannot hold copyright to that letter.
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  #8  
Old 12-07-2006, 03:18 PM
Smooth Jack Smooth Jack is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Torque
One can search the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that's how! Go to Trademarks on the left and you'll find the link to search their records.
OK. I checked that out and found this. If I'm reading it correctly, Dawn Food Products owns the trademark for O.J. Is that right?
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  #9  
Old 12-07-2006, 04:35 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smooth Jack
OK. I checked that out and found this. If I'm reading it correctly, Dawn Food Products owns the trademark for O.J. Is that right?
Yes, they have it to sell "CAKE DONUT MIXES AND DONUTS". There are 5 others who own "OJ" as a trade mark: the oldest is by Johnson Propeller Co., Inc., to sell "marine propellers, as structural parts of boats".

Note that trade marks are tied to kinds of products, and often tied to partticular geographical areas. That's how "Apple" can be a trademark both for a computer company and for a recorded music publisher.
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  #10  
Old 12-07-2006, 05:39 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Torque
Patents are strictly for useful items, such as inventions and business methods. There is no "utility" in a word or phrase, so the short answer is, no, words and phrases cannot be patented. That is not to say that words and phrases cannot be otherwise protected by intellectual property laws, only that patent isn't the way it's done.
If there was such a thing as an invented phrase that had actual, direct utility (let's say, an actual working magic spell to make things levitate), would it be patentable?
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  #11  
Old 12-07-2006, 05:47 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
If there was such a thing as an invented phrase that had actual, direct utility (let's say, an actual working magic spell to make things levitate), would it be patentable?
I suspect that case law is scarce on that particular point.
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  #12  
Old 12-07-2006, 09:56 PM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
If there was such a thing as an invented phrase that had actual, direct utility (let's say, an actual working magic spell to make things levitate), would it be patentable?
Yes, it probably would. But you would definitely have to come in with a working model, as it would fall within the group of "this is so implausible we make you come in and demonstrate that it works" inventions, like perpetual motion machines.
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  #13  
Old 12-07-2006, 10:00 PM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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And to be exact, what you would patent would not be the word itself, but the method of making things levitate by uttering the word (since words do not fall into any of the statutory classes of patentable subject matter).
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  #14  
Old 12-08-2006, 04:13 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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Computer code is just words that make computers do stuff and you can apply for business patents for them.
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  #15  
Old 12-08-2006, 04:15 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ENugent
Yes, it probably would. But you would definitely have to come in with a working model, as it would fall within the group of "this is so implausible we make you come in and demonstrate that it works" inventions, like perpetual motion machines.
Thanks. I'll get right to work...
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  #16  
Old 12-08-2006, 11:07 AM
Telemark Telemark is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shalmanese
Computer code is just words that make computers do stuff and you can apply for business patents for them.
I believe (please correct me if I'm wrong) that you patent the concepts and ideas behind the code, not the code itself. Maybe code would be protected under copyright laws.
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  #17  
Old 12-08-2006, 11:35 AM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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You patent the computer running the code, usually, as well as a method of doing whatever by executing computer instructions.
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  #18  
Old 12-08-2006, 11:36 AM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shalmanese
Computer code is just words that make computers do stuff and you can apply for business patents for them.
This is not quite an accurate statement.

To the extent that any given computer code exists, it is subject to copyright laws. No one can copy the work (the actual code) without the author's sayso.

To the extent that the code represents a new idea (say, for example, a new computer programming language), it can be patented. It isn't the code that is patented, but the idea.
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  #19  
Old 12-08-2006, 11:45 AM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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Computer code normally is protected under copyright laws, being considered a "creative work", just like a poem or a painting. However, computer code is one of the oddball situations where something can appear to be covered by two different kinds of intellectual property law. For example, Amazon's "One-Click" ordering system was patented as a business method, but the code that actually makes the method possible is covered by copyright. But, it's important to note that what is patented is not the code, but the business method. Once again, words aren't patentable.
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  #20  
Old 12-08-2006, 12:13 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq

To the extent that the code represents a new idea (say, for example, a new computer programming language), it can be patented. It isn't the code that is patented, but the idea.
The patents I have on what is basically computer code are written up as patents on processes that are implemented - incidentally - on a computer. I susepect that someone implementing the process by paper and pencil would still be violating the patent. Yes, it is an idea as opposed to the expression of the idea in code, but certainly not all ideas can be patented, right?
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  #21  
Old 12-08-2006, 12:16 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Torque
Computer code normally is protected under copyright laws, being considered a "creative work", just like a poem or a painting. However, computer code is one of the oddball situations where something can appear to be covered by two different kinds of intellectual property law. For example, Amazon's "One-Click" ordering system was patented as a business method, but the code that actually makes the method possible is covered by copyright. But, it's important to note that what is patented is not the code, but the business method. Once again, words aren't patentable.
If a program that accomplishes a certain task is copyrighted, someone understanding the task (by looking at the running program and not the code) could reproduce the program in a clean room environment, and not be in violation. This used to be done all the time when companies copied instruction sets from another computer by writing a clean set of microcode to implement it.

If the process implemented by the code were patented, a clean room implementation would still be in violation. That's a big difference.
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  #22  
Old 12-08-2006, 01:23 PM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq
To the extent that the code represents a new idea (say, for example, a new computer programming language), it can be patented. It isn't the code that is patented, but the idea.
And this is not quite an accurate statement, either. Ideas are not patented - new and useful machines, methods, and compositions of matter are. When you file a patent application for software, you typically claim it as a method of doing something, and as a machine running software encoding the method. It is possible that a person with a paper and pencil could infringe the method claim, but not the machine claim.
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  #23  
Old 12-08-2006, 03:27 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ENugent
And this is not quite an accurate statement, either. Ideas are not patented - new and useful machines, methods, and compositions of matter are. When you file a patent application for software, you typically claim it as a method of doing something, and as a machine running software encoding the method. It is possible that a person with a paper and pencil could infringe the method claim, but not the machine claim.
I was using loose shorthand to note that it was not the code but the concept (as enacted as a "method" if you will) that is patented. The intent was not to offer a complete treatise on patent law (in which even your statement is not totally accurate, as are few statements about intellectual property that don't get qualified by about a chapter or two of very tricky explanation! ).

I think this answers Voyager's question as well.
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  #24  
Old 12-08-2006, 10:10 PM
Cardinal Cardinal is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq
To the extent that the code represents a new idea (say, for example, a new computer programming language), it can be patented. It isn't the code that is patented, but the idea.
This is how Amazon can successfully sue companies for using a "One Click" check-out method on their web site. It's the idea that's patented (although some say too many ticky-tacky things are being granted patents in software), so even though the code presumably wasn't stolen, they've prevailed in court, IIRC.
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  #25  
Old 12-10-2006, 06:40 PM
gonzomax gonzomax is offline
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let's_get_ready_to_rumble! Trademark anyway.
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  #26  
Old 12-11-2006, 05:43 AM
FRDE FRDE is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giles
Note that trade marks are tied to kinds of products, and often tied to partticular geographical areas. That's how "Apple" can be a trademark both for a computer company and for a recorded music publisher.
If you mean Apple as in Steve Jobs and Apple as in the Beatles, there were problems a long time ago and it sounds as if they are back due to iTunes - OTOH it might just be both companies stirring up publicity.
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  #27  
Old 12-11-2006, 06:17 AM
Giles Giles is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FRDE
If you mean Apple as in Steve Jobs and Apple as in the Beatles, there were problems a long time ago and it sounds as if they are back due to iTunes - OTOH it might just be both companies stirring up publicity.
Yes, that's who I meant, and the convergence of media has made an increase in conflict pretty likely, whatever the TM owners wanted.

The "Apple" instance also illustrates that you can trademark a common English word that is already the name of a product that is bought and sold. However, if you are a grower, wholesaler or retailer who deals in apples, you can't trademark "Apple" for your products. So I doubt if you could trademark "O.J." as a brand of orange juice, since generic orange juice is already called that.
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  #28  
Old 12-11-2006, 01:25 PM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq
I was using loose shorthand to note that it was not the code but the concept (as enacted as a "method" if you will) that is patented. The intent was not to offer a complete treatise on patent law (in which even your statement is not totally accurate, as are few statements about intellectual property that don't get qualified by about a chapter or two of very tricky explanation! ).
I agree that intellectual property law is more than a bit confusing, but I think that it is worth pointing out that you don't patent "ideas". Those who believe that you do often think that the patent somehow prevents others from "thinking about" the "patented idea", or researching in the area. What you can't do is either build a machine that falls within the claims, or do all the steps of a patented method for method claims. But a method claim that involves nothing but "thinking" steps is generally an unpatentable algorithm. (Research is a bit of a thorny area since the Duke cases were decided, but a patentee still definitely can't prevent anyone else from thinking what they wish.)

I'm also curious in what way you found my statement to be not totally accurate - I put that "typically" in there for a reason! (And for my own personal curiosity, are you a patent prosecutor?)
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