Subject: Re: trademark infringement
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Date: Sat, 01 May 2004 00:40:42 -0500
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I write on behalf of the CounterExploitation web site,, 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 products.

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).

Webmaster, CounterExploitation