I write on behalf of the CounterExploitation web site, http://cexx.org
to address concerns raised in your e-mail message dated April 27, 2004.
We acknowledge and understand that the owner of a trademark or service
mark is required to take reasonable steps to prevent misuse of the
distinguishing mark in order to maintain the effectiveness of this mark.
At the same time, however, we also take issue with attempts to remove
common or commonly-derivable words from circulation in the language.
Although you assert that anonymizer "isn't a common term", I have the
feeling that a vast number of grammar teachers (and many native English
speakers) might disagree with you on this point.
The following document provides a brief list of common English-language
suffixes and their meanings:
The word "anonymizer" follows the same form as "mobilizer", "vitalizer",
"stabilizer", and even, although often taken for granted, "organizer"
(from the Latin 'organum'). Other suffixed forms of the word
"anonymous", such as "anonymize", "anonymizing", "anonymity",
"anonymization" and so forth, are similarly derived.
Take the term "randomizer" as an example. This term is applied to
processes which "randomize" (make random) a set of items; for example, a
music playlist, CD track listing, or a deck of playing cards. This word,
applied to a device or process which randomizes, is a descriptive term;
that is, it effectively describes the function of that device or process
(randomization). The term "RANDOMIZER" is in fact registered as a
service mark by Max Hats Ltd., for an interactive Web site that creates
random clothing designs. (Not to be confused with the mark "THE
RANDOMIZER", owned by the Reader's Digest Association). However, neither
of these companies can prevent a CD player manufacturer from including a
feature named "Randomizer" on their products, nor can the owners of the
mark even prevent one another from using the term to describe their
United States trademark law categorizes trademarks based on a number of
factors, the novelty of the mark being first and foremost. A trademark
can be categorized as:
1) Fanciful: A completely made-up word (e.g. Chevrolet)
2) Arbitrary: An existing word applied to something arbitrary or
unrelated (e.g. Apple Computers)
3) Descriptive: A term that describes the product, its function, or
attributes (e.g. Analog Devices)
4) Suggestive: The mark hints at the product or an attribute thereof,
but is not explicitly a descriptive mark. (E.g. Frigidaire)
5) Generic: Only designates the type of good (e.g. food, cola, car).
Generic "marks" do not receive trademark protection.
"Anonymizer" would most likely fall into the category of a descriptive
mark. Descriptive marks have more protection than generic marks (which
have none), but less than suggestive, arbitrary or fanciful marks, which
are considered "strong" marks. For the descriptive mark to have
protection, it must acquire secondary meaning by being associated with
only a single company or product in the eyes of the average consumer.
This protection typically comes in the form of the ability to prevent
another company from marketing a similar product or service by the exact
same name (infringement) or inferior or unwholesome product by that name
(tarnishment). If a mark is considered "famous" (e.g. Disney), it may
also be protected from use on unrelated goods and services (blurring),
even if they are not likely to cause confusion in the marketplace.
Regardless of classification, however, there are clear limits on the
types of use protected or prevented by trademark law. For example, "fair
use" (for example, use of a descriptive mark for its primary meaning;
e.g. to effectively describe a product), parody, nominative use
(necessary use of a trademarked term to refer to a product, e.g. that of
a competitor), and non-commercial use (no goods or services are being
offered) are examples of lawful uses of a trademark term.
Use within the CounterExploitation web site of words derived from
"anonymous", including those that match or nearly match your service
mark, would almost certainly qualify as both fair and non-commercial
use, as the terms are used to effectively describe the function of
third-party services (anonymization), and CounterExploitation does not
run any form of anonymizing proxy at all, commercially or otherwise.
I hope that this provides a bit more clarity regarding US trademark
issues. Note, however, that we are not attorneys and this should not be
taken as legal advice. Particularly if you have questions or concerns
regarding US intellectual property law, I recommend consulting with an
attorney before continuing to mass-email every site using a suffixed
form of the word "anonymous" (itself a prefixed and suffixed form of
Latin and other roots).