Dystopian Trademark Revelations
55 Conn. L. Rev. 1 (Forthcoming 2023)
23 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2022
Date Written: July 27, 2022
Uncovering dystopian technologies is challenging. Non-disclosure agreements, procurement policies, trade secrets, and strategic obfuscation collude to shield the development and deployment of these technologies from public scrutiny until it’s too late to combat them with law or policy. But occasionally, exposing dystopian technologies is simple. Corporations choose technology trademarks inspired by dystopian philosophies, novels or real life, all warnings that their aspirations are dystopian as well. That pronouncement is not necessarily trumpeted on Twitter or corporate websites, however. It’s revealed in a more surprising place: trademark registrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
In exchange for registrations, the PTO demands disclosure of details about applied-for trademarks. Those include the mark itself as well as information about how the mark will be used, forcing corporations to admit their intent for their technologies. But those details do not always provide the full picture. PTO disclosures can be strategically supplemented with knowledge of the dystopian inspiration for the marks to understand corporations’ plans for their products. This Article 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.
Keywords: trademarks, technology, surveillance, dystopia, palantir, panopto, mechanical turk, amazon
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