timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

The Name Game

What’s in a name? Well, when you’re selling something, quite a lot. A good product name can focus people on your core benefit. It can crystallize the characteristics that set you apart from your competitors. Names can be inspiring, inviting, intriguing. Most of all, they can make money, which is why trademarks are their own little turf war.

Today we lost “Akimbo” as a product name. Turns out there’s a startup in California that choose the name four months ago, headed by the co-founder of ReplayTV. We had a nice chat this evening. Very likable guy. While it’s not clear that his service and our product are technically a conflict in the eyes of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there’s still a danger of brand confusion. Whether they’re a big success or a miserable failure, we’d always be saying, “Not that Akimbo.”

And yes, we did our homework first. Even had our IP lawyer on the case. I thought of the name in October, did a web search and a trademark search, and while we found an “Akimbo Systems” that made a product called “Globetrotter”, we weren’t worried about a conflict. The USPTO makes finer distinctions these days. There’s was a company, our’s was a product.

Just before announcing the name in December, I did another check. Nothing had changed, so we went forward with it. We began designing a logo that made use of outspread arms (the meaning of akimbo), hoping to tie it in with angle brackets in a subtle and fun way. I was even going to start the illustrator on the final logo today.

Instead, I found the new Akimbo Systems. Apparently, they launched their temporary website a few weeks ago. Talk about bad timing. I called them right up and talked with the ReplayTV guy, hoping we could co-exist, but instead we chatted about the early days of DVRs. Here’s a guy who knows about that pit in the stomach I wrote about yesterday. He seemed geniunely sympathetic about the name conflict, having gone through the same hell recently when he didn’t get the name he wanted.

What a funny thing, this business of names. We pay $1500 to claim a word in the English language and for our troubles, we get a circled R that wards off entrepreneurs like me. So now the program-formally-known-as-Akimbo is nameless, though we’re chugging away towards our March beta release.

Any name suggestions? Our current favorite is Zombo. (this is a joke)

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