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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #39: June 11, 2002

Sony forced to share Walkman

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Sony forced to share Walkman"

Collins COBUILD, a well respected and authoritative English dictionary, has the entry for the word Walkman which reads; "A Walkman is a small cassette player with light headphones which people carry around so that they can listen to music, for example while they are travelling. (TRADEMARK)." Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, another highly regarded dictionary often referred to by many students and scholars, defines Walkman as; "a small cassette player with HEADPHONES that you carry with you and use while you are moving around."

It may not have become such a fuss if the definition in the German dictionary Duden had a similar indication as COBUILD that the word is a trademark. The article reports the Austrian Supreme Court has ruled that the word Walkman is a common noun and not a proper noun, i.e., a trademark. The explanation provided by the court was that the word was in the German dictionary without any reference to Sony, and that Sony had not requested any correction to the definition.

In a way, it would be a true honor for a private company to create a product so revolutionary and so popular that it would not only sell well but also add a word in a language, obtaining a space in a dictionary. It could, in some cases however, void a chance for the company to generate profit as a reward for the innovation, and worse still, it could undermine the credentials earned.

As an example, there are many Japanese who think "Coke" is just a fancy word for colas, be it Coca-Cola or Pepsi or anything else that claims it to be a cola-sort of drink. It might be a prestige for The Coca-Cola Company for their product to be so popular, but they may be losing an opportunity to sell their product because the consumer is happy to receive a Pepsi when ordering for a Coke.

Misconceptions at these personal levels are unavoidable, and it could be even argued that it could be benefiting Coca-Cola at the end of the line. But the trademark right is so recognized in the modern world under the belief that by guarding the entities who own them from unjust challenges they could carry on their own businesses efficiently, which would also be beneficial to the society, while it would also protect the rights and safety of the consumers.

Sony has been reported to express its dissatisfaction and is apparently now seeking other measures to protect the Walkman name. A concern is that this incident in effect could encourage illegitimate use of trademarks generally in less developed areas such as East Asia. Another concern expressed by some is the way this could evolve in the European Union, of which Austria is a member.

Would Sony have to begin complain to Oxford Dictionary to amend its definition for the term Walkman?

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