Do Androids Dream of Cell Phones?

The Wall Street Journal reports that an heir to the estate of sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick has alleged that Google’s “Nexus One” phone infringes the author’s intellectual property estate. Mr. Dick is the author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which was the basis of the sci-fi cult classic “Blade Runner“. In that futuristic film-noir classic, Harrison Ford plays a bounty hunter who tracks down androids referred to as Nexus-6 models.

The Google phone is not the only phone that borrows from sci-fi cinema to boost its branding appeal. Motorola’s much celebrated Droid cell phone references the many robotic characters that play a key role in the “Star Wars” films. There are, however, important differences between the two cases. Lucasfilm, owner of the “Star Wars” franchise, registered the trademark Droid in 1985 for use with action figures. They maintain that registration and several others related to Droid. No other parties have registered Droid as a trademark. All that meant Motorola required a trademark license from Lucasfilm.

The estate for Philip Dick would have a much stronger claim against Google had they registered Nexus-6 as a trademark. Instead, other companies have registered the word Nexus for various types of goods and services. The critical question is whether the use of Nexus One for the cell phone market creates a likelihood of confusion with regards to sponsorship or source in relation to the Dick estate.

Another interesting twist arises if Google’s future versions of the phone increase sequentially. At some point, the phone may be branded as Nexus Six. By claiming an intellectual property dispute early on, the Dick’s estate may be pre-empting the controversy.

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