The (Klingon) Empire Strikes Back

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at
Thu Nov 17 21:46:07 CST 2016

Fonts when they are not copyrightable are still patentable. The complexity
of IP rights is growing and their scope of application as well (sometimes
with backward effects in time, including on the "public domain"). I would
not bet anything on a past decision by a US court, and anyway we're not
building just an US standard but an international standard: may be the
Unicode consortium or ISO would not be liable of infringments or subjects
to claims of IP rights in US, this doies not mean that there won't be
claims elsewhere, if the standard bodies cannot assert themselves their own
IP rights (which are then allowing them to licence the standards "for free"
to anyone in the world).

In this complex world, all that can be done is tohave a faire procedure for
litigations, and get some security by offering enough time for such claims,
after which a local (but applicable) law enforcement body will be able to
decide that these claims are coming too late to be valid (in the IP world,
such delays for "too late" claims can be extremely long, up to 70 years or
more for claims by individual people, ot 10 years for tangible properties
and appropriation of the public domain or the private domain of someone
else). On the Internet this fair system is known as the "UDRP" procedure
(which applies as well on claims for domain names).

But once this time is exhausted an IP rights are no longer exclusive,
someone else could build a new claim (e.g. by registering new patents
against what shoudl be the public domain and it is then costly to counter
these attacks that are too common with patents and trademarks). And when
there's uncertainty about the oreservation of the public domain or
legitimete use of it, some countries prefer redefining the delays
(including with backward applications, for example Russia): they can do
that with national laws unless these countries are bound to international
treaties: this has occured notably before the WIPO became a mostly
worldwide body enforcing the applicability or non-applicability of IP
rights in more tan just one country. But WIPO is now concerned with new
kind of rights.

Historically there was the patent system (derived from industrial rights
and artistic rights), then the copyright system, now there's the new
database IP system, and the moral right for physical persons starts being
extended to moral persons... In fact with these constant extensions, I am
not sure that all existing publications of the standard are not partly
covered now by new claims against which we've not opposed officially in due
time. This means that this goes beyond the single case of Klingons. We know
that the historic human language is now being appropriated (notably by
trademarks). In fact, all existing standards are concerned.

2016-11-16 2:26 GMT+01:00 Shawn Steele <Shawn.Steele at>:

> As I understand the issue, the problem is less of whether or not it is
> legal, then whether or not Paramount might sue.  Whether Unicode wins or
> not, it would still cost money to defend.
> I was wondering like Mark Davis mentioned if there were some sort of
> companies that sold bonds for this kind of thing (though that might be out
> of KLI's budget.)
> Being afraid of a no answer probably isn't going to inspire confidence.
> But maybe you could do a combination of the above.  Get someone to give you
> a legal opinion and then present that to Paramount with a "hey, they said
> this was probably legal anyway, but we wanted to ask nicely to be sure."
> -Shawn
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Unicode [mailto:unicode-bounces at] On Behalf Of Mark E.
> Shoulson
> Sent: Tuesday, 15 November 2016 5:19 PM
> To: unicode at
> Subject: Re: The (Klingon) Empire Strikes Back
> On 11/15/2016 07:31 PM, Mark Davis ☕️ wrote:
> > > However, it appears relatively settled that one cannot claim
> > copyright in an alphabet...
> >
> > We know that these parties tend to be litigious, so we have to be
> > careful. "relatively settled" is not good enough.
> >
> > We do not want to be the ones responsible (and liable) for making a
> > determination as to whether that is settled. Nor do we want to pay the
> > legal fees necessary to make a water-tight determination.
> >
> > That is why if there is any question as to the IP issues, we leave it
> > up to the proposers to get absolutely rock-solid clearance (eg from
> > the Tolkien estate for Tengwar, or from Paramount for Klingon). The
> > only other alternative I can think of is if the proposers provide
> > indemnification for any legal costs that could obtain from a legal
> > suit of us or our vendors.
> >
> > Mark
> > //
> How about legal counsel on the matter?
> We're a little hesitant of asking Paramount/CBS about this, because of
> course, asking means that we think maybe they can say no, and we don't want
> to imply that.  So I'm thinking/hoping maybe we can do some research by a
> qualified legal expert (and not us armchair-lawyers, "yeah, it looks pretty
> settled to me...") to make a determination.
> I'm trying to find out some more information about the KLI's pIqaD font,
> which it has been using and distributing for decades, during some of which
> time it was licensed by Paramount, and which apparently was *not* covered
> in the licensing agreements—precisely because typefaces are
> *not* copyrightable in the US!  (I thought they were, though... like I
> said, I'm trying to find out more about this.)  And all that time without
> objection from Paramount.  Not a slam-dunk argument, but it's something.
> ~mark
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