CD Projekt RED’s trademark application for the term “Cyberpunk” recently sparked quite a bit of controversy. It actually prompted an official response from the developer who attempted to quell fears of misuse and for the most part, fans have been understanding. However, some took their concerns to Bruce Bethke, the author who is accredited with coining the term in the early 1980s.
Speaking to World Trademark Review, Bethke said that he’s not an expert on the subject but doesn’t believe it’s possible for companies to trademark certain words to prevent their use for any other purpose elsewhere. He referenced some failed attempts by companies to do so in the past but also said that he had “a few concerns” about CD Projekt RED’s application and wishes the studio would contact him to address those.
My understanding of American trademark law is that trademark depends on context. While you can trademark a logotype or a unique variation – eg, as I recall, R. Talsorian Games’ trademark was specifically for a role-playing game named ‘Cyberpunk 2020’ – you can’t just trademark a word for all purposes everywhere. Hence when some company back in the 1980s tried to claim a trademark on the word ‘cyberpunk’ because they were publishing a Cyberpunk comic book, well, tough – it didn’t hold up.
I do rather wish someone from CD Projekt RED would contact me, though, to clarify a few of my concerns.
Bethke went on to voice his frustration at people expecting him to guard the trademark. He wants to focus on what he’s doing at the moment as opposed to something he did 37 years ago.
What do our readers think of Bethke’s comments?