Over the years, we’ve certainly seen plenty of ridiculous attempts to overclaim trademark rights, often for the sake of censorship. While it’s not always the case, generally speaking, it’s smaller, less sophisticated companies and trademark holders who do this. Larger companies do have a habit of trademark bullying on the margins, but they tend to know better than to send absolutely insane trademark threats just because someone mentions their brand. Apparently, IMAX is an exception to that general rule. IMAX apparently believes that merely mentioning IMAX without a license is infringing on its trademark. Even if you’re a media company writing about a product and you interview someone who says something nice about IMAX. IMAX is wrong. Also: IMAX.
You see, our friends over at Ars Technica recently wrote a review of the SteamVR offering, and it included a quote from a game designer, Denny Unger, who was talking about how cool SteamVR is and said: “It’s like saying, ‘I have an IMAX theater in my house.’ It’s so much better that we can get away with a cumbersome setup.” That quote also did become a part of the headline to the story, which appears to be what tipped off IMAX’s elite crack squad of trademark censors, who proceeded to send Ars Technica this ridiculous letter which states:
IMAX Corporation has been the owner of the federally registered trademark in the United States and Canada since 1970. Any unauthorized use of our trademark is expressly forbidden.
We believe that your incorrect reference to IMAX when describing this product is misleading to readers as we do not believe that it is possible for a virtual reality system to replicate the experience of an IMAX theatre, which is provided by cutting edge projection and sound technology on screens up to 35.72 metres. We request that all future articles regarding this “room-scale” virtual reality system make no reference to our registered trademark.
Ars Technica’s response to this ridiculous threat is perfect. It points out, first of all, that the quote mentioning IMAX is actually praising IMAX:
In other words—Unger thinks SteamVR is awesome, and to express its awesomeness, he compared it to IMAX, another thing he clearly thinks is awesome.
But then explains some rather basic things about trademark law that you would think a company the size of IMAX would already know.
First of all, this isn’t a story about IMAX, and it contains just one (nice!) reference to IMAX. The statement wasn’t Ars’ speech at all, but one that an Ars writer chose out of many possible interview quotes. But that’s all a bit of an aside, because the important point is that despite Ruby’s fantastical interpretation of what a trademark means, we’re actually allowed to say whatever we want about IMAX. I can say IMAX screens look like SteamVR, or that they look like my 47″ Vizio TV, or that they remind me of purple bunnies. We can review IMAX directly, we can compare it to other products, we can love ’em, we can hate ’em—all without their permission.
The standard in trademark law is to determine whether there’s infringement by detecting whether there would be a “likelihood of confusion” between two products. But again, we’re very far away from that test here. That standard would only apply if we were selling movie tickets; there are no consumers who confuse reading an article about virtual reality with going to the movies.
And, you know what, I don’t think enough people have compared IMAX to purple bunnies.
Ars Technica’s Joe Mullin also points to our own article about how, if anyone is messing with IMAX’s trademark, it’s IMAX itself, which for years now has been installing much smaller screens but still calling them IMAX, confusing lots and lots of people. It’s been years since we mentioned that, and I don’t think we otherwise would have had need to do so if IMAX itself hadn’t reminded us of this little fact. So, yeah, IMAX, maybe send your staff to some remedial trademark school, because the media can absolutely say IMAX without your “authorization.” IMAX. IMAX. IMAX.