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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. So recently, nerdfighters have been asking me a lot about this don't forget to be awesome rug available at Urban Outfitters. Like, did we license it? No. Are they paying us? No. Are we happy about it? Hmmm, not really. Can we stop them? Yes. But we're not going to. Welcome to the wild world of trademarks.

So first off Hank, Urban Outfitters is not alone in this co-opting of DFTBA. Like there's this Kate Spade wallet that says don't forget to be awesome, as does this Hobby Lobby poster, and this Delia's t-shirt and this Aéropostale ad. There's also this thing from Pier 1, stuff from Ron Jon surf shop.

And Hank, I know that we did not invent the phrase "don't forget to be awesome." So far as I know, it was invented by my friend Katie Else in 2007. However, we did popularize it. The phrase had almost no Google hits or searches before nerdfighters began using it.

And Hank, because the phrase is so closely associated with us, it would be easy enough for us to go and hire a lawyer and trademark it and then we could send Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter that would be like, "Hi, either stop selling this doormat, or else publicly apologize for firing all of your Swedish employees when they attempted to unionize." 

And I would kind of like to do that. Partly because I don't want corporations co-opting Nerdfighteria, and partly because I am tired of getting emails asking me why, for instance, nerdfighter slogans are available at Hobby Lobby, a corporation that until, like, a month ago, refused to carry menorahs.

Ah, but wait. Here's is the problem with trademarks. You cannot selectively enforce them. So Hank, if we trademark DFTBA and Don't Forget To Be Awesome, we can't just tell Urban Outfitters and Hobby Lobby to stop making don't forget to be awesome stuff. We have to tell everyone to stop using that phrase including like, nerdfighters who make awesome stuff and sell it on Etsy. Like, I'd have to send cease and desist letters to people who make this amazing spoon, or these Hanklerfish greeting cards, or this DFTBA scarf. God, that's awesome. And I don't want to do that because I don't want that stuff to stop existing; in fact, in many cases I want to personally buy it.

But if we selectively enforce our trademark, Urban Outfitters and Hobby Lobby can be like "no no no no no, this isn't really trademarked because look, they don't care when those people use the phrase." So the only way to stop Urban Outfitters from selling DFTBA rugs is to also stop nerdfighters from selling DFTBA scarves. And of course, that's bananas. You couldn't explain this to any court, but the truth is, the phrase don't forget to be awesome doesn't belong to you and me, Hank, it belongs to Nerdfighteria.

So Hank, we aren't going to trademark Don't Forget to be Awesome because it would mean claiming ownership over something that isn't really ours. And that means that we're occasionally gonna have to deal with companies trying to co-op the sayings of the Nerdfighter community.

But Hank, I suspect the vast majority of nerdfighters will continue to make their own DFTBA stuff, or else buy from independent creators or buy it at dftba.com, where the royalties from nerdfighter merchandise are always shared with the nerdfighters who designed that stuff.

Anyway, I wanna say one more thing about trademarks because it totally fascinates me. If you and a lot of other people use your trademark, and it becomes weakened, it can eventually become what's called generalized. And that is every brand's nightmare. Like aspirin used to be trademarked by the company that distributed it, Bayer. And that meant that only Bayer could call their acetylsalicylic acid Aspirin, the way that only Advil can call their ibuprofen Advil. But because the aspirin trademark weakened over time and everyone just started calling that drug aspirin, now anyone can call their "aspirin" aspirin.

The same thing happened to escalators and thermos, and it almost happened to some brands we know pretty well today, including Nintendo, which marketed the phrase "game console", so people wouldn't call all consoles Nintendos. And to Google, which is why Google is always very careful to talk about searching even when the rest of us always talk about Googling.

Hank, companies like Nintendo and Google are terrified of their trademarks becoming genericized because those trademarks define them. But our community is lucky enough to be defined not by its name or by its mottos, but by the values those words represent. And those values don't become less meaningful when they are shared, in fact, quite the contrary.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.