QR Code® Trademarked? Yep! My Response
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on February 3rd, 2012
This past week, a client of mine forwarded me an email from Denso Wave Incorporated, the originators of those 2d mobile response codes we call QR Codes®. We call them that because Denso Wave trademarked the term, although few of us may be aware of it. But they did.
(View Denso Wave’s trademark info here.)
But Denso Wave has not protected its trademark, and over the years, the industry has used the term as a generic for mobile 2d response codes. Think of all of the references in white papers, research papers, publications, marketers, printers, blogs, and newsletters . . . how many times have you seen the trademark used?
Call me clueless, but I’ve never seen one. So when my client forwarded me an email from Denso Wave asking not only that the trademark be used with every reference to QR Codes® (apparently, Denso Wave also wants it with a capital C), but also that the phrase “QR Code is a registered trademark of DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED” be included somewhere on the Web page or in the publication, if I’d been dead, I would have turned over.
The fact is, there are many different types of mobile 2d response codes. QR Codes®, Datamatrix, BeeTAGG, MS Tag, SnapTag, JagTag, and the list goes on. What’s different about QR Codes® is that Denso Wave chose to make the code open source, so anyone can download it and create their own. Just Google free “QR code generator” and see how many companies have done it.
Combined with lack of enforcement (or, at the very least, selective enforcement) from Denso Wave, the result has been an explosion in use of QR Codes® (which I’m sure pleases Denso Wave), but also a genericization of the term QR Code® itself, which clearly does not.
I understand the desire to protect a trademark, but there is a certain level of common sense here, too. Can you imagine what writing on this topic would be like if every company trademarked the names of their codes or insisted on the ® be used after the ones that are? Then the phrase “[such and such] is a registered trademark of [company]” be listed for every one? You’d use up your word count before you ever began writing. Plus, every magazine article, piece of marketing collateral, and white paper would end up looking like a press release or advertisement.
I don’t know whether Denso Wave has suddenly changed its policy and decided to enforce its trademark more aggressively after all of these years or whether one of its employees simply got a burr under his or her saddle and sent the email on his or her own accord, but it reminds me that, in this industry, we need a generic term for 2d mobile response codes that doesn’t involve someone’s brand name.
So let me suggest one — 2d mobile response codes. It’s not as clean as QR Code®, but it’s a true generic that will prevent letters from trademark attorneys or vigilante employees and marketing collateral and publication pages that look like alphabet soup.