Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Word of the Month: Catospheric!

For several years, aerospace consultant Joanne McNeil has had a harmless and rather quiet blog; I don't remember how or when it got onto my roll, but there it is. One of the minor features of her blog is a list of links to people who are, or once were, associated with the Cato Institute; this link list was humbly titled the "Catosphere".

Today my RSS reader delivered to me news that some clueless consultant sent her a nastygram because her use of "Catosphere" allegedly infringes on the service mark of some other service with the same name. Being more clueful than said consultant, and hating obnoxious intellectual property land grabs as much as I do, I did a bit of homework and responded. McNeil's usage appears to predate this consultant's use of the word "Catosphere" by at least six months.

In the words of Jay-Z, "I ain't passed the bar, but I know a little bit/Enough that you won't illegally search my shit", and one funny thing about U.S. service mark law is that the legal theory is based on protecting the market from confusion. Therefore, the strength of one's case w.r.t. protecting a right in a service mark is based, in part, on whether the target market understands the mark to refer to your product and not your competitor's. Now, "Catosphere" is a sufficiently rare string that, in all probability, summer 2004 would have turned up J. McNeil's blog as the top hit on search engines. So McNeil has at least one defense, on the grounds that prior to this consultant's appropriation of her mark, "Catosphere" arguably referred to the think tank and/or McNeil's link list, not the consultant's service, and it is the consultant who's sowing confusion and not McNeil. Indeed, even after significant self-promotion by this consultant, Google's rank for "Catosphere" still places McNeil in the top 20.

But we're not done yet. We can weaken the consultant's case even further by reinforcing the rightful and original usage of the word "Catosphere". The first step, of course, is to link to McNeil's blog using the word Catosphere as the link text.

The second step is to use "Catosphere" and variants thereof in a sentence; for example:

Third, we can sign up for, and use, del.ico.us to categorize a whole mess of links under catosphere.

Fourth, along the same lines, we can categorize all Cato or Cato-related links on our blogs under "Catosphere", using Technorati tags; for example:

UPDATE 28 July 2005: We interrupt this old post to bring you the following announcement: my original understanding of Technorati tags was totally incorrect. I should have read the spec more carefully. This post has been updated to reflect my new understanding.

The following code generates the above link:

<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/catosphere" rel="tag">Catosphere</a>

The rel="tag" part indicates that this link is a tag, and the href="http://technorati.com/tag/catosphere" part indicates that we're using the Technorati tag namespace with the tag name "catosphere".

Here's a few more random, non-tagged links (I'd do more, but I don't want to trip Google's spam detection):

[ Catosphere Catosphere Catosphere Catosphere ]

Lastly, we should point out that the proprietor of Catosphere.com is guilty of employing a link farmer, i.e. "search engine optimization" service, as this screen cap demonstrates. Normal web pages simply do not generate links like that. Well, Google hates automated link farming with a passion --- they view it as a form of spam, which it is --- so if anybody at Google is out there reading...

(As far as this post goes, I plead innocent of link farming, as I am creating a collection of links that add informative value to the Internet's link graph, as opposed to just promoting an individual entity.)

Expect to see a relatively large number of Cato-related posts in the next month.

Moral of Today's Story: unless you've got mountains of money to burn on lawyers, playing the whuffie economy will serve you better than cracking the whip of IP law.

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