by SealWyf, HSM Editor
On June 26, 2012, the Homeling Collective passed a major milestone: it became one of the first user-created Home groups to trademark its name. The name “Homelings” is now protected as something that applies uniquely to us, and may legitimately be written as Homelings™.
What is a trademark? And why did we feel it was worth a significant amount of work and expense to acquire one for a social group in Home?
A trademark (or service mark, which is technically what we have, since we don’t produce a physical product) means that a distinctive name or logo has been registered with a national government for protection against counterfeits and imitations. On June 26, an attorney filed a trademark application in our behalf with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). This means we can now add the letters TM (or, more properly, SM) in superscript to our name, Homelings, to show that it is protected.
Over the next three to six months, our application will be examined by the attorneys of the PTO. If it passes the examination, it then enters a period where other parties can challenge its validity; this may last another six months. But in the end, if no credible challege is issued, our name will become a registered trademark, and we may switch from TM to the full, official ® symbol. The during-the-application phase of the process is sometimes referred to as a “common-law trademark”. However, since the intent to register the mark has been made clear, our name is already protected.
Why do this in the first place? Trademarks are usually associated with products for sale. When a corporation applies for a trademark, it has often already created a product and built up a customer base. If the product is popular, other corporations might be tempted to lure customers by creating an imitation. A product that looks or sounds like a successful one — a CokeyCola beverage, for instance — could fool people into thinking they are getting the real thing. The reputation of the original company would be diluted by a flock of wannabes, shoddy knock-offs and counterfeits.
The Homeling Collective is not a for-profit corporation. Our product, according to our trademark application, is “Computer services, namely creating an on-line community for registered users to participate in discussions, get feedback from their peers, form virtual communities, [and] engage in social networking.” (We didn’t write this. The lawyers did.) But, in many ways, our need for protection is similar to that of a company with a physical product. Having spent the past four years building our distinctive image and reputation, the Homelings can’t afford to be blindsided by counterfeits. And, to an increasing extent, the Collective is involved in actual real-world activities. And so, in June, 2011, the Generals’ Council decided to investigate protecting our identity by registering our name.
From whom might we need protection? One source of confusion, deliberate or otherwise, is other Home-based user groups — the hostile, the envious, and the clueless.
It should come as no surprise to any Home user that there are hostilities among Home groups. Fam wars are a staple activity of Home, and have turned several public spaces into no-go zones for respectable citizens. The Homeling Collective has faced its share of attacks, despite our credo of respect for all in Home. One reason we decided to pursue a trademark was to protect ourselves from possible hostile action.
Envious and clueless groups also cause problems, even if they are not motivated by malice. From time to time someone will decide that the Homeling Collective is so epic that there ought to be two of them. They create a copycat group, declare that they are the real Homelings, and recruit Home users who don’t realize they are joining a counterfeit. Now that we have protected our name, we can confront such activity with a cease-and-desist letter from an actual attorney. Whether a copycat group would respect such a letter — or whether we would know to whom to send it — are open questions. But it’s nice to have the option.
But in the end, our real motive for declaring Homelings to be a brand, protected by law, came not from the often juvenile hostilities of Home, but from the hazards of real-world commerce. The Collective has a modest but constant need for funds to maintain its web sites — the Fluidic Space site where all Homelings have accounts, and our small public-information wiki. In the past, members of the Generals’ Council have simply pitched in when the sites were due for renewal. But some income would be helpful, and we have been experimenting with ways to raise it.
Our initial experiments took the form of sales of Homeling t-shirts, featuring graphics designed by one of our Generals. These were a modest success, but we wished to expand our offerings. However, before we could move forward with serious commerce, we needed to protect the Homeling name from imitations. One of our Generals investigated acquiring a trademark though the LegalZoom website and reported his findings to the rest of the Generals’ Council. After much discussion, we decided that the cost and work involved were a worthwhile investment.
Then the work began. Generals who could afford to pitched in financially, those who were not intimidated by legal verbiage filled out the paperwork, and the rest contributed to the ongoing discusions. In the end, it was a thoroughly cooperative venture. All eleven active Generals are listed on the application as the holders of the trademark on behalf of the Homeling Collective.
Now that our name is protected, we have been planning our commerce strategy. We have created a prototype Homeling Store on a popular online store site, and will soon be opening it up for general business. Designing our own real-world product line is an exciting prospect, and many enthusiastic (if not entirely practical) suggestions have come from the Homeling membership.
But our ambitions extend beyond mugs and mousepads. We are a Home group, and we someday hope to have distinctive Homeling goods in Home, available to all Home users.
This may seem like a deranged fantasy. But there is already a significant amount of user-designed or -sponsored content in Home. Videos made by Home media groups are shown in the Community Theater and on the LOOT EOD systems. Virtual clothing and furniture honoring Home groups has been produced and distributed, both as free rewards in the Theater and through special promotional codes. Such items have included the AlphaZone4 3rd birthday hoodie, the HomeCast Rewind outdoor furniture, the PS Talent picture frame, the Gamer Indepth t-shirt, and the YourPSHome.net animated shirt. PS Talent has already sponsored a commercial for the Homeling Collective, a video slide show created by one of our own artists, and shown in the Community Theater with other PSTalent videos. So Homeling content in Home is not an impossible dream. Will we someday have MotherShip clubhouses that look like actual spaceships? We hope so. We can see this happening.
We have already come so far — from a tiny group of closed-beta users playing with the Echochrome Suit to a Collective with over 600 registered members, 34 MotherShip clubhouses, constant in-Home activities, and a major web and social media presence. In our own way, we have become a symbol of what is possible in Home. And now we have protected our identity — said, in effect, “This who we are. We are the Homelings. We are unique, and we are here to stay.”
We have come this far. With work and imagination, who knows what else we can accomplish? We already have some amazing tools for creative expression. And Home’s possibilities are constantly expanding. The sky (or its virtually-rendered Home equivalent) is the limit.