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Thread: "Patent Pending?" iA's Militant Stance on Syntax Control in Writer Pro [UPDATED]

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    "Patent Pending?" iA's Militant Stance on Syntax Control in Writer Pro [UPDATED]

    12/26/13 - See update and postscript at the end of this article regarding iA's statement that it will abandon its patent applications. Also, please see The Verge's writeup on Writer Pro if you'd like an introduction to the software and the Syntax Control feature.

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    Oliver Reichenstein, one of iA’s principals (he appears in the Writer Pro video posted to The Verge) has made some cryptic and vaguely threatening statements to developers about Writer Pro’s new Syntax Control feature:

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    Syntax Control is a solid innovation, one we’ve been working on for more than four years. As with every serious design, once you have seen how it works, you can figure out cheap ways to copy it. We’ve trademarked and obtained patent pending for Syntax Control. If you want it in your text editor, you can get a license from us. It’s going to be a fair deal.

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    This may be different if iA had designed its syntax recognition from scratch. But in fact, the heavy lifting is already baked into Apple’s developer platform. Since iOS 5 and OS X 10.7, Apple has provided a class called NSLinguisticTaggerthat segments natural-language text and labels the text with various bits of information, including parts of speech. NSHipster wrote a quick blurb about the class back in 2012, and other apps like Phraseology have already showcased similar syntax-parsing technology.

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    The trademark databases for the U.S., E.U., and the International Register all come up empty when searching for "Syntax Control." And unfortunately for iA, it’s very unlikely that iA can obtain a trademark registration for "Syntax Control" because the name almost certainly fails to function as a trademark. In the United States and the EU, trademarks must be "distinctive" to be registrable. The words used must not merely describe the attached goods or services. This is why, for example, many companies can use the name "Raisin Bran" for breakfast cereals — the name describes the goods (the cereal) and does not distinguish the goods’ source.

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