8/25/2010

Permission marketing trademark evaporation

I see this morning that Facebook.com is suing Teachbook.com for trademark infringement. I understand how and why the Facebook lawyers justify protecting the name by this means, even if I consider it to be a gross misuse of trademarks law as it ought to be. But I happen to think the whole idea of 'intellectual property' leans toward the oxymoronic.

The best laugh I've ever enjoyed from a good trademark joke, and those are very rare, was yesterday evening when I researched the trademark registration on the phrase "Permission Marketing." Seth Godin invented that phrase at least thirteen years ago, and he literally wrote the book on it. It was a 1999 book titled Permission Marketing.

At Infoworld's July, 1997 Spotlight conference, where "Silicon-Valley-Meets-Hollywood," Seth Goden spoke and is quoted in the Aug. 4 1997 issue of InfoWorld, p. 103, as saying in interactive internet markets customers, "will give you 'permission' to market to them."

Godin's company Yoyodyne Entertainment, Inc. filed an application for a Federal trademark registration for "Permission Marketing" on September 3, 1998. Yahoo! announced its acquisition of Yoyodyne on Oct. 12, 1998, at the same time Godin's book Permission Marketing went to press for release the following May. Yahoo! received technical ownership of the Federal Trademark Registration on "Permission Marketing" with its purchase of Yoyodyne, but Godin retained a license to use it. He had a nearly published book with that name on the cover coming out soon.

But, partly due to the fact of the books great success, if you ask anyone that is familiar with the idea of permission marketing, "Who do you associate with the phrase 'Permission Marketing'," nine out of ten will answer, "Seth Godin." Under those facts, it is nearly impossible for Yahoo! to retain even technical ownership of the trademark. I suppose it would be called trademark dilution, but that idea doesn't quite fit.

On April 4, 2008 Yahoo!'s trademark claim to 'Permission Marketing" died. It was cancelled. I have seen nothing to suggest there was any litigation or dispute of the matter, so I conclude its cause of death was the sober realization at Yahoo! that there are some things you just can't buy. I laughed.