They Are Stealing Our Language Now

From Anecdote today:

“Just a warning to everyone out there who is using the term “Yellow Pages” to describe the people directories you might develop to implement knowledge management. Today I received this letter from Telstra’s lawyers telling me that I have probably unintentionally infringed their trademark and I must remove the reference from one of our whitepapers. I will make the changes they request, as it is not a biggie, but you should be aware if you are using this terminology that you might have Telstra’s lawyers knocking at your door.”

I checked. It’s not April First, so presumably this is serious. The funniest part of this letter (which is otherwise very sad and mean) is para 7: “As a result of the widespread distribution and extensive advertising associated with the Yellow Pages@ directories, our clients have developed a substantial and valuable reputation and goodwill in the Yellow Pages@ brands.”

Yeah right. Telstra clearly doesn’t understand goodwill, or they’ve been reading too much Dilbert. How much damage does reinforcement of the language into common terminology by respectable and reputable knowledge managers actually do to a brand, as compared with a mean, nasty grasping little letter like this? When Hoover became a verb, the brand did well out of it. Next time I’m in Oz, I’m staying off the Telstra networks. And whose language is this anyway?


5 Comments so far

Keith De La Rue

Interesting to contrast with Hormel Foods fairly open approach to the use of “spam” both by Monty Python and as a name for annoying emails.  So long as you don’t capitalise it inappropriately, they don’t mind the repeated use of it at all…

Posted on September 04, 2007 at 12:52 PM | Comment permalink

interestingly enough, here in the US the term ‘yellow pages” has become generic.
I recently worked at, now part of AT&T. They claimed that the old AT&T never secured the name, because they were a monopoly and didn’t think they needed to. (fwiw)

from Wikianswers:

Generic or descriptive trademark not enforceable

There are several hundred different companies using the phrase “yellow pages” or “yellow page” as part of their trademarks, but (at least in the USA) they cannot prevent each other from using the words “yellow pages” in other combinations (e.g., “Bumpkinville Yellow Pages” could be a new trademark).

To even be considered for a federal registration of a trademark including “yellow pages”, you would be required to “disclaim” any proprietary right to those words, apart from your specific combination (i.e., with other words, with a distinctive logo, etc).

A descriptive and non-distinctive brand is not a very valuable marketing tool, and it only takes a bit of imagination to come up with something much more catchy.

Posted on September 14, 2007 at 04:39 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Keith and Jay… they sound a whole lot more civilised (and sensible)!

Posted on September 14, 2007 at 09:28 AM | Comment permalink

Keith De La Rue

(Without speaking as a formal spokesperson...) I guess that Telstra are keen to retain legal “ownership” of the name in Australia while they can, as a hedge against it becoming a legally “generic” term.  Part of the language it may be, but it is also a well-understood “brand”.  The interesting irony is that Telstra are apparently now marketing the business directory under the simpler name of “Yellow”.

Which brings me to another point - in the discussion about expertise location, do we really want a “yellow” directory - a list of “business” categories - or a “white” directory - a list of people?  Or is what we really want a searchable combination of both?

Posted on September 14, 2007 at 01:05 PM | Comment permalink

Keith De La Rue

Maybe that last comment seemed a bit one-sided… I also agree that trade-marking or copyrighting parts of the language does feel somewhat uncomfortable.  This also probably reflects the whole copyright battle over music publishing.  The issue here is a lot about who actually benefits most from the music industry structure - it is far more the publishing companies than the performers. 

I guess if somebody creates a term, they can claim a right to protect it.  But how long should they have a moral right to protect it after it becomes adopted into general language?  In the “Yellow Pages” case, it appears that the term was originally coined in the US, and adopted by (then mostly government-owned) telcos around the world.  (Presumably under licence to AT&T?) Interesting that it is apparently no longer a protected name in the US…

Posted on September 14, 2007 at 01:19 PM | Comment permalink

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