Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Protective Colouration, Trademark violation, and NEC

Slashdot has an article today on how a group of people -- pirates, in some sense of the word -- have cloaked themselves in the coloration and name of the Japanese electronics corporation NEC and, essentially, established themselves as a rogue division.  It's like the relationship between the Monarch and Viceroy butterflies (note, even the names imply the relationship!).

Monarch caterpillars feed almost exclusively on milkweed, which is more than mildly toxic and correspondingly foul-smelling and -tasting to mammals and birds.  The toxin stays in the insect during its transition from caterpillar to butterfly, so Monarch butterflies taste *terrible*.  They adopt a protective colouration that's a bit counterintutive as a result -- they're orange and black, with somewhat stripy patterns.  Google's image search will give you a really good idea.

Viceroy butterflies are a different species altogether, with a much wider diet.  They eat some milkweed too, but not nearly as much as Monarchs do -- so they don't taste particularly bad, as insects go. However, their colouration is very similar to a Monarch's. They piggyback on the reputation that Monarchs establish, and are predated less as a consequence.

If you've read the Slashdot article, you know where I'm going here.

The term we use to describe what Viceroys do when companies do it is "trademark violation".  Of a particularly egregious sort, because it applies both up and down the supply chain.  It's piracy, but it's a twisted kind - misrepresenting your goods to consumers is one thing, but misrepresenting your business to your suppliers requires even more cojones.  I can't help but think that we'll see more of this, though, and that biological metaphors will take us further and further toward the realization of a true business ecosystems.  Here's a prediction for you: the other component required of the global market to create a true business ecosystem is autonomous corporations.  Give it 10 years.

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