In case you missed it, I’ve created quite a stir on the 2D Barcodes LinkedIn discussion board. My Digital Nirvana post from last Friday also spawned an unusually high number of comments. The reason for the ruckus? I asked the question: Do we really need to add the trademark symbol to QR Code? After all the fallout, here are my comments and observations.
It all started last week, when a client of mine sent around an email from Denso Wave, the creators of QR Codes, indicating that the term QR Code — the open-source 2D mobile barcode created by Denso Wave now being used by any number of companies across the globe —needs to use the trademark any time the term is used.
Considering that the industry has been using “QR code” as a generic term for these codes for years, this may be a surprise to some, but it’s true. Denso Wave does have the term trademarked, and on its patent page, the company requests that the (TM) be used. It also requests that people add the phrase “QR Code is registered trademark of DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED” somewhere on the page where the term is used.
One of the challenges for this request, of course, is that the code itself is open source, and Denso Wave has made it readily available for anyone to use to create their own codes . . . and they have. Just look at the number of companies using the code to create their own QR Code generators. Denso Wave also has not been aggressively enforcing the trademark. Even some of the biggest marketing firms promoting the use of mobile barcodes are not using it in their white papers, blogs, new releases, and so forth.
The public consensus to my pot-stirring was that Denso Wave trademarked the term and has a right to have the trademark used. Several people claimed they regularly see QR Code trademarked in content they read. This was a surprise to me, however, since I do not recall ever having seen it myself, and I do a tremendous amount of tracking and writing on this subject. My own reports on QR Codes, including “QR Codes: What You Need to Know” and “QR Codes: The Data Speaks,” do not use the (TM) either.
We do not apply the trademark to Data Matrix, BeeTAG, Microsoft TAG, or any of the other 2D barcodes. Adding the (TM) to QR Code would stand out like a purple thumb. Because we tend to associate (TM) with promotional efforts, using it would also create the appearance of promotional intent, which is something most editorial users very much want to avoid.
Other thoughts on this issue:
- Denso Wave’s patent page presents the use of the (TM) as a request, not a demand.
- AP Style (used by newspapers and many magazines) specifically says not to use (TM) in editorial. (Which is why you don’t see the (TM) used in trade magazines.)
- The overwhelming trend in the industry is not to use the (TM) with QR Code.
I’m choosing not to use the (TM) in my editorial either. I wholly respect and support Denso Wave’s right to its intellectual property. At the same time, I consider blog posts, white papers, and reports to be editorial like newspaper or magazine content and therefore not requiring the mark. The addition of the (TM), in my mind, undermines the objectivity of the writing because of its implication of promotional intent.
I do cave on one issue related to the trademark, however. As not just an industry writer but professional editor, I have been using QR code (lowercase c) to refer to these codes as generic open-source products not associated with a particular company. Because the term QR Code is actually trademarked, I will now grit my editor’s teeth and capitalize the “C” to preserve the integrity of the term as I would any other trademarked property.
I will also redouble my efforts to make the very clear distinction between the Denso Wave open source QR Code and other 2D mobile barcodes. In fact, the “QR Codes: The Data Speaks” has now been renamed “QR and Other Mobile Barcodes,” and throughout the report, I have gone through each reference to QR Codes and made the distinction between Denso Wave open-source QR Codes and other 2d mobile barcodes.
After all, Denso Wave is right about one thing. There really is a significant difference between its open-source codes and other forms of 2d mobile barcodes, and in editorial coverage, that distinction needs to be preserved. Perhaps, in the end, that’s all Denso Wave wanted anyway.