If you owned a domain name, had a product or recently applied for a trademark with "Second Life" in it, you may have to change it. A week ago, Linden Lab announced a new trademark policy under the guise of the Second Life Brand Center and clarified some questions concerning the policy yesterday. Great for them! Taking care of their trademark and copyrights not only helps Linden Lab police their product (especially with competing products beginning to appear), but it helps police some other disputes concerning Second Life, including the SLART trademark dispute. I usually don’t comment on these sorts of topics, but for the sake of this discussion it is a great example of how the new trademark policy helps the community as a whole and a lesson about how to avoid being trapped by such policies.
Here are the cliff notes to the SLART Trademark dispute. Richard Minsky, owner of the SLART Magazine filed a trademark for the phrase "SLART" and it was granted to him. He then began enforcing his trademark in and outside of Second Life, something that a trademark owner should do. Of course a lot of people are already using the phrase SLArt to tag, categorize and describe pictures taken in Second Life especially on Flickr, it created a community backlash. There has been some great and insightful commentary over the dispute which boils down to the fact that Linden Lab owns the copyright and trademark to Second Life. What this means is, Linden Lab are the ones who ultimately policies how their name should be used. In the case of SLART, Minksy is at the mercy not of the Second Life community but at Linden Lab. Aswell, through the creation and enforcement of their trademark policy Linden Lab has prevented a possible resident driven, expensive and long trademark lawsuit filed against Richard Minsky.
When you use the trademark or copyright of someone else, you are at their will. Say I trademarked "Second Life DJ" or started a magazine called "Second Life DJ", Linden Lab would have to have the final say of me using their phrase Second Life. They could shut it down because even if I owned the trademark to "Second Life DJ", Linden Lab first owns the trademark to "Second Life". There are several brands, websites, and services that use the phrase "Second Life", and I’m sure that the SLART trademark dispute is not the first such issue where proper use of the Second Life name has come into question. What the new trademark dispute does emphasize is an unspoken rule when creating your own brand – distinguish it from everything else. Some of the most successful companies, business and services in Second Life don’t have Second Life in their name.
I’m not going to say using Second Life in the name of your product is stupid, rather it puts you in jeopardy to being at the mercy of someone else’s policy, in this case Linden Lab. While I use SLART as the example here, SLExchange, SLNewspaper, Second Life Profiles, and SL Buzz are examples of other services that could be in jeopardy of needing to re-brand. If you’re currently someone who uses SL in your product or business name, now is a great time to re-brand.