Heidi’s Wrap-Up on the QR Trademark Stir

By | February 10, 2012

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.

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6 thoughts on “Heidi’s Wrap-Up on the QR Trademark Stir

  1. Roy Grossman

    By time this gets sorted out, in my judgment, it will hardly matter. QR Codes (TM!) are coming to the end of its useful life. We are well on the way to newer type response codes and other technologies that will render QR Codes (TM!) as yesterday’s fad.

  2. Sam S.

    The technology is not “open sourced” as you state.

    The ownership and patents remain with Denso Wave; and they allow people to use the technology “with permission.”

    That subtle difference is huge. You (anyone) cannot think of QR Codes (r) as “open source” and perpetually free.

    In fact, the biggest downfall of QR Codes (r) is that they’ve been cheap and free, resulting in cheap applications all too often.

    So, if we are all defining terms here, let’s make sure NOT to call QR Codes (r) “Open Source.” You can also look to the Patents and the Patent lawyers secured by one company with off-shoot technology for indirect Codes. That’s probably a more relevant issue and something to be concerned about. Or, the companies who re-Brand QR Codes (r) under some proprietary label that only confuses the public? There’s another issue.

    I hope Denso Wave takes back all permissions and starts licensing only legitimate companies to extend the use of the code. No more freebies. If people have to spend some money, perhaps they’ll also spend some time thinking about what they’re doing.

    Oh, @Roy is correct, this should be moot by now, QR Codes (r) are an old technology and their days should be numbered.

  3. Slobodan Krajinovic

    Roy, interesting comment, do you have any data to support your claim. Data containers, including QR code or any other bar code are here to stay.

  4. Roy Grossman

    Denso’s QR Code was originally intended for tracking inventory. In the commercial space, using the QR Code can be a cumbersome process, and depending upon the app one uses and the phone type, the success rate varies significantly. In addition, as a design element, Denso’s code is lacking.
    Other companies are developing codes that do not require an app. Research from Snap Tag by Spyder Link indicates that 88% of smart phones have cameras but only 13% have QR code readers. I believe the concept of using a smart phone to take a picture and receive instant info is here to stay. I do not believe that Denso’s product, as it currently exists, will be the primary “reader” for much longer. But it’s only a guess.

  5. John Zarwan

    There was a time when Adobe required a trademark on PostScript as well. If trademarks aren’t enforced, they aren’t enforceable. Probably a new legal team.

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