Loving the MIT Media Lab Logo

Posted by | March 18, 2011 | General | No Comments

MIT Media Lab recently announced an awesome new logo, which consists of three colored searchlights that can be altered to create 40,000 different shapes, with 12 different color combinations.  Each version of the logo looks different depending on the color of the lights and the manner in which they are situated and angled:

Wow!  Is this a cool or what?!?!

The logo was designed by E Roon Kang, an NYC graphic designer and Richard The and his team at TheGreenEyl.  There’s a nice overview of uses of the logo on E Roon Kang’s site.

No two logos are alike . . . once each member of the Media Lab creates their own logo, that logo is locked to prevent anyone else from using it, which ensures that each Lab member has their own unique logo.  The Lab also put the logo into action on the About page on its website.

As cool as it is (did I even need to mention how super cool it is?), MIT’s new logo raises two concerns from an IP legal standpoint: (a) it’s so cool, it probably will be knocked off, and its copyright probably will be infringed; and (b) MIT may not be able to protect the logo as a trademark because the PTO may refuse registration under the “Phantom Mark” doctrine.

If this algorithm can be reverse-engineered, then I will bet that hackers and would-be-infringers already are working on it.  Even more problematic are folks who figure out how to create a similar logo function without infringing on (copying) MIT’s.  Copyright infringement requires both access to the work (in this case the algorithm) and copying thereof.  If someone else writes a unique algorithm that functions similarly without accessing MIT’s, well that’s fair game and MIT won’t be able to prevent it unless they have Jedi mind tricks up their sleeves (I don’t put it past them).

On the trademark side, MIT may face a phantom mark refusal if it tries to register this mark with the USPTO.  Phantom marks are those that have a component in them that is subject to change.  In this case what makes the logo so cool also may make it un-protectable as a trademark.

Perhaps MIT just isn’t that concerned.  After all, of the 50 LIVE PTO records in MIT’s name, none are for the MIT Media Lab (though they do have a registration for NERD PRIDE).  Maybe that’s because the MIT Labbers are so smart they’ve already designed their way out of any possible trademark infringement matters.  Then again, maybe not.

When designing a new logo it is important to consider enforcement issues — ideally you want a mark that will be easy to protect and enforce.  While MIT Media Lab’s new logo is cutting edge and wonderfully innovative, its enforceability remains to be seen.  Hopefully it won’t be an issue.

About Lara

Lara Pearson is a trademark attorney with Exemplar, where she also serves as the firm's Sustainability Steward. Lara's legal practice focuses on trademark and copyright law, including: intellectual property audits; trademark search & clearance; trademark and copyright registration & maintenance; intellectual property transfers; transactional work; and dispute resolution, including litigation when necessary. Lara primarily represents other social enterprises -- those leveraging their businesses and brands as catalysts for positive social and environmental change. Such businesses engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to have a positive "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit. As Exemplar's Sustainability Steward, Lara works with others in her law firm to measure and reduce the firm's carbon emissions and encourage engagement in social responsibility initiatives, including pro bono legal work and volunteering. Lara is a proud member of the Social Venture Network. Brand Geek is a member of 1% for the Planet and a Certified B Corporation, whose Incline Village office is certified under the regional Keep the Sierra Green program. Exemplar Companies is the most innovative professional services firm in the New Economy. Our unique, diversified expertise spans the disciplines of corporate law, business advisory, and capital/investment banking to better meet the needs of our high-potential customers. We have assembled a comprehensive suite of service to meet the complex issues facing companies in today’s challenging business environment. Our unique, holistic approach ensures the growth and success – and greatly increases the competitive advantage - of our customers. The Exemplar team is comprised of knowledgeable, highly skilled experts in a wide range of industries and disciplines. They work closely with our customers to provide trusted advice, incomparable support, expert guidance and the ultimate competitive advantage as they accelerate their businesses and position themselves to transform industries.

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