[SciPy-User] Matlab trademark - was: Re: SciPy-User Digest, Vol 82, Issue 49

Benjamin Root ben.root@ou....
Sat Jun 19 12:38:07 CDT 2010

On Sat, Jun 19, 2010 at 8:18 AM, Matthew Brett <matthew.brett@gmail.com>wrote:

> Hi,
> > I've pressed our lawyers to look for established cases and precedents
> > for use of undecorated trademarks in commentary and review, but for
> > the docs, which are part of our "product", I think the safe route is
> > to use MATLAB(R) as the Mathworks recommends.  Quite frankly, I think
> > doing so also makes us look more competent and serious to our own
> > users.
> As far as I can see, it doesn't make any legal difference to the use
> of the term, whether you attach (R) to MATLAB or not.
> It's difficult to see how a phrase such as 'MATLAB file format' could
> be anything but nominative use:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use_%28U.S._trademark_law%29
> http://www.publaw.com/fairusetrade.html
> and therefore fair use.
> I guess that you mean that putting (R) next to MATLAB in every use
> will make the Mathworks feel better and therefore less likely to sue,
> but it seems vanishingly unlikely to me that they would attempt this.
>  For example, on the Sage home page:
> http://www.sagemath.org/
> we see an undecorated 'Mission: Creating a viable free open source
> alternative to Magma, Maple, Mathematica and Matlab.' - and this is a
> much more directly comparative use than we have.
> I think the best way is the way I suggested a while back; that is
> something on the lines of:
> These are readers for the MATLAB [1] file format.  Blah Blah.  The
> MATLAB file format specifies that...
> [1] MATLAB is a registered trademark belonging to the Mathworks inc.
> We use this trademark without permission from the Mathworks..  Our use
> of the trademark is not authorized by, associated with or sponsored by
> the trademark owner.
> (see http://www.publaw.com/fairusetrade.html).
> Putting (R) for the many mentions of MATLAB seems like overkill to me
> and conveys the impression that we are a bit scared of lawyers for no
> good reason, and thus makes us seem less competent than not doing so.
>  On the other hand, sticking to MATLAB rather than Matlab is probably
> safer (http://www.publaw.com/fairusetrade.html again).
> Our only possible problem is that we also use 'matlab' as a module
> name.  I can't imagine that this will exercise the Mathworks much, but
> it does mean we sometimes don't use 'matlab' in a nominative sense.
> If we want to avoid that, we'll have to rename the module to something
> like 'matfile'.
> I would also like to point out another possible source of issues.  There
are times when we might compare a function's behavior against another
system, like MATLAB.  While I don't recall an example in SciPy, I have seen
it in matplotlib's pcolor() functions.  I wouldn't be surprised to see it
elsewhere, considering how we do try to cater for those moving from MATLAB.

> But - 'I am not a lawyer' (TM).
> "But I play one on the internet!" :-P

Ben Root

See you,
> Matthew
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