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Push to Infringe

Via Wireless Week, and according to Yahoo News, Nextel has trademarked "Push to Talk" and is going to go after infringers:

Nextel Communications Inc. said on Friday it would use trademark law to stop emerging rivals of its 10-year-old walkie-talkie service from using the term "push-to-talk" to describe their products.

But lawyers said Nextel, the No. 5 U.S. wireless telephone company and so far the only one to offer a feature on a phone that allows customers to talk at the push of a button, could face an uphill battle to protect the term.

"You can't use trademark law to remove words from the dictionary and prevent their ordinary use," said Steven Bauer, a partner in the intellectual property group at Boston law firm Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault.

"They may have been the first ones to call it push-to-talk but being the first one to call it that doesn't mean you're the only one who can call it that," said Bauer who argued that the phrase was too generic to be a strong trademark.

Nextel, which also uses the brand name Direct Connect to describe the service, said in a statement on Friday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had approved registration of Push to Talk and its abbreviated form PTT as trademarks.

"It makes smart and strategic sense to protect a name that refers to a brand," said Nextel spokesperson Audrey Schaefer.

I did a search using Google Groups. "Push to talk" goes back at least 22 years, having been used as a generic term (along with the abbreviation "PTT") by ham radio operators and pilots to describe the act of, well, pushing a microphone button to talk. My guess is that these terms go back far longer than that. Now Nextel has come along and convinced the USPTO to grant it trademarks on them.

Let's face it: the USPTO is broken. Many proposals to fix it involve spending more money, but can anyone seriously argue that the USPTO granted these absurd trademarks to Nextel due to a lack of funds? The USPTO's principles and processes are fundamentally flawed. Remember, if you have a fire burning, money isn't water, it's gasoline.

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