Intellectual Property Law
Uncovering dystopian technologies is challenging. Nondisclosure agreements, procurement policies, trade secrets, and strategic obfuscation collude to shield the development and deployment of these technologies from public scrutiny until it is too late to combat them with law or policy. But occasionally, exposing dystopian technologies is simple. Corporations choose technology trademarks inspired by dystopian philosophies and novels or similar elements of real life—all warnings that their potential uses are dystopian as well. That pronouncement is not necessarily trumpeted on social media or corporate websites, however. It is revealed in a more surprising place: trademark registrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
To grant registrations, the USPTO demands detailed disclosures about applied-for trademarks. These include the mark itself as well as information about how the applicant will use the mark, forcing corporations to admit their intent for their technologies. But these details do not always provide the full picture. The public can strategically supplement trademark disclosures with knowledge of the dystopian inspiration for the marks to understand corporations’ plans for their products. This Essay uses the marks PALANTIR for big data analytics, PANOPTO for classroom recording systems, and MECHANICAL TURK for on-demand work to illustrate the power of coupling trademark registrations with underlying namesakes to understand technologies’ dystopian implementations. Dystopian trademarks signal dystopian technologies, and the public is well-positioned to seek them out and develop strategies to combat their entrenchment.
"Dystopian Trademark Revelations" (2023). Connecticut Law Review. 568.