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writes things for cash

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Thu 07
Dec
2006

Allevia: So Sue Me

What Max Reckons The other day two people threatened to sue me. Admittedly, they were employees of the same company. But still: two in 24 hours is a new record for me. It’s also the first time I’ve been threatened by a company, not an individual. But, like all the others, it was related to NationStates, the nation simulation web game I wrote.

To whom it may concern:

There is a “counrty” on your webite called “Allevia”. Allevia is a TRADEMARKED name and may not be used on your website. You will be receiving registered mail shortly from our legal councel here in Switzerland. We advise that you remove the trademarked name from your site without delay.

Sincerely,

N. Jackson

At first I thought this was a stunt by a NationStates player, trying to get the Allevia nation into trouble—because players can be devious like that. But there is a real Swiss company called Allevia, so I wrote to them to ask if this was for real.

Before long I had a reply from Pierre Mainil-Varlet, MD, PhD, MBA, Allevia’s Chief Operating Officer. Pierre confirmed it was genuine, and if I didn’t scrub Allevia from NationStates, “a legal action will be started.”

Now I was confused. It’s not like Allevia is such a bad nation. It’s a democracy, has excellent civil rights, low unemployment, and its national animal was the Tufted Penguin. Those are some cool birds. Sure, it’s a corporate bordello, but whose country isn’t, these days? So I had trouble seeing what this company’s problem was—other than the fact that Google’s “allevia” results listed someone who wasn’t them at number five.

I wrote to Pierre expressing my doubts:

Could you please explain why you believe the use of the Allevia name by one of our players is illegal? To my eye it just looks like coincidence—nothing about the account suggests the player is referring to (or even aware of) your company. Should nationstates.net be in breach of the law, then by all means we will comply, but I’m a little puzzled about what law you think is being broken here.

Pierre fired back a very interesting reply. Before I reveal that, though, here is a quiz. Imagine you discover an unrelated use of your company’s name in an obscure online computer game. There’s nothing offensive or damaging about it, but still, it bugs you that the internet isn’t reserved solely for your marketing messages. What do you do?

Your options:

  1. Ignore it, because it has nothing to do with you, and your time is better spent doing whatever the hell it is that your company is supposed to do.
  2. Write a polite letter explaining the situation, keeping in mind that in many parts of the world, including all the relevant ones, threatening legal action over a trademark without a genuine basis is illegal and exposes your company to counter-action.
  3. Write to an author with a history of irritability toward corporations that try to control language, claiming to have ultimate control over use of the word “in all fields of operation,” explicitly including computer games (a claim easily contradicted by your own country’s trademark registry), and repeatedly threaten him with lawsuits.

If you selected #3, you could be Allevia’s Chief Operating Officer.

Pierre agreed with me that it was “a total coincidence and not bad will from the player.” And he further acknowledged that not only is “allevia” a common Italian word, but it’s used by Estee Lauder to refer to a fragrance. However, he claimed:

[We] own all other field of application including computer games and softawre software. The situation would be the same if you would use the name coca cola.. You would be place into difficulties

He also assured me again that this was a serious matter and Allevia “will be consequent in our action,” which I took to mean something bad.

Around now I began to wonder if our player should sue Pierre. After all, the player was running a respectable nation; he wouldn’t want to be confused with a Swiss-based manufacturer of empty legal threats. I was also tickled by Pierre’s use of the Coca-Cola example. I mean, of all the companies to choose from, and all the people to try it on: he chooses Coke, and the guy who wrote a novel set in that company and had it published in ten countries.

I was a little tempted to fake up a letter from Coke, saying it had come to their attention that Pierre had used their trademarked name in an email without permission, and now they were going to sue. Because Pierre didn’t seem to understand that trademark law prohibits people from passing themselves off as you—not from talking about you, or using the same coincidental series of letters in unrelated contexts.

But I didn’t do that. Pierre CCed his last email to a bunch of people inside Allevia, presumably to impress upon them how decisively he was taking care of business. Following that, I couldn’t get him to write back to me, no matter how sneakily I encouraged him to say something else outlandish. So I’m guessing someone on that CC list knocked on his office door and had a gentle conversation with him about what the hell he was doing.

Which makes it a happy ending, in my book. The great nation of Allevia survives, its intelligent, well-educated citizens free to lead their lives unmolested in their beautiful, progressive, somewhat economically fragile nation. And, somewhere in Switzerland, a Chief Operating Officer grows a little sadder, but perhaps also a little wiser.

Comments

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Julian Bennett Holmes (#2209)

Location: New York, NY USA
Posted: 3880 days ago

Good work.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3880 days ago

I chose #3. My new life goal is to be Allevia’s Chief Operating Officer.

-adam speicher

Adam A. (#256)

Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Quote: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." -George Carlin"
Posted: 3880 days ago

Great story. And way to not take any crap from The Man .

Machine Man subscriber Katrina (#847)

Location: SF, CA
Quote: "Good sex is like good Bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." -- Mae West"
Posted: 3879 days ago

I have to admit it's the spelling that really gets to me. >_>

Matt (#808)

Location: AZ
Quote: "The only 3 books I've read in the last few years have been from the Barry Collection"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Good job Allevia! Bad press for a company who nobody knows about :) Nice writeup, I think the COO should have chosen one of the first two options you listed. And I LOVE the Coke reference in the email...very nice.

Colette (#324)

Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Quote: ""The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy" -- Kurt Vonnegut"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Way to go, Max. I'm behind you all the way! (and now I want to make a Coca Cola nation....)

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 3879 days ago

I'm in tears! *laughing in office*

Queen Eve (#460)

Location: Dimensions at SanguinemDraconis.net
Quote: "Sanity is a gift; given at birth, lessened by maturity, and gone from us by the age of reason. --Kestral Lei"
Posted: 3879 days ago

I am tickled pink by this one Max. Not only do I applaud you for standing up to a bully, but also for the humorous manner in which you did it. It might not mean much to the rest of the world, but Im sure it meant alot to the head of Allevia, the nation, and the rest of your following.

This is one of those funny things I would like to see spread across the news and internet, eventually gaining folk-legend status. Then we can all say we know the real story and tout how our own Max Barry stood up to the numbskull COO and got him to say something really stupid.

Flash those pearly whites Monseuir Mainil-Varlet when you smile blankly for the camera.

Machine Man subscriber Danni (#357)

Location: England
Quote: "Eagerly awaiting the European Tour."
Posted: 3879 days ago

Well done Max :) Thanks for the laugh- I needed it :D

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 3879 days ago

After waking up late and missing a meeting I meant to attend, that made my day.

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Incidentally, from what I saw the nationstates forums are "healthy" still. You have a rather raunchy 11 page thread that started this morning before breakfast.

thewylddream (#1191)

Location: Montana USA
Quote: ""Always forgive your enemies -- Nothing annoys them so much." ~Oscar Wilde~"
Posted: 3879 days ago

This one made me giggle. Thanks for the laugh Max. I'm sorry that people are being rude to you and yours and trying to get you all excited over nothing.


Justin (#2009)

Location: Halfmoon, NY
Quote: "Max(x) is awesome!"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Woo Hoo! Sue his Swiss ass!

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 3879 days ago

I think the COO went back to making wallets out of duct tape...
$

Ruth (#288)

Location: Bath, United Kingdom
Quote: "Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Posted: 3879 days ago

Once again a day is brightened :)

SilverCloud (#2038)

Location: SANTA MONICA ,CA.U.S.A.
Quote: "Fortune Favors the Brave"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Will you be adding this story into one of your books?
I would hope so.

David (#1848)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Delighted!"
Posted: 3879 days ago

I LOL'ed all over the place, here, Max! Thanks, but who is going to help me clean up this mess?

I think the famouser you get the more ironical things are going to happen, bubba.

Tom (#2823)

Location: SouthEast Michigan (U.S.A.)
Quote: "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
Posted: 3879 days ago

That's a very funny story. The fact that it is true makes it funnier.

Linnea1928 (#2654)

Location: Rosemount, MN
Posted: 3879 days ago

I love how your posts always make me giggle, and then when my roommate asks why I'm giggling and I try to explain it to her, she has no idea what the hell I'm talking about. Every single time. Anyways, thanks for another fulfilling morning of giggling. :)

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Max: 1
Corporations: 26,498

But every little bit helps

Jak (#2464)

Quote: "The Straight-Jacket makes it hard to type."
Posted: 3879 days ago

Nice,
Off to register a nation in every brand name i can think of...

Machine Man subscriber fredzfrog (#2368)

Location: Moe
Quote: "Fredzfrog"
Posted: 3879 days ago

ohh bugger it!

i finally signed up to nationstates today...

and after joining, i then read my email. gah! coke would of been a far better name then fredztopia!

Machine Man subscriber Xavier Desroches (#1840)

Location: Brossard, Qc, Ca
Quote: "Smile, Tomorrow Will Be Worse... - Murphy"
Posted: 3879 days ago

Wow... I don't understand how peoples can think of such stupid thing... its like those compagnies which dont want peoples to use their name as a common word (Like "to google something") while some other want their name to be use ("IBM compatible", "Kleenex", "Tylenol", etc...).
I may be studying management (finance) but I'm still a newby at understanding those corporate craps!!!

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 3878 days ago

You rule, Max. That's hilarious.

blab (#1632)

Location: The Sandwich Isles
Quote: "Adventure is just poor planning"
Posted: 3878 days ago

When I began my addiction to this game I had no idea that I was joining the ranks of those under the protection of the Armed Republic of Max. Thanks for standing up for your players, and for being such an all around brilliant guy.

What a great story. LOL.

Ian Harris (#1034)

Location: Cambridge, UK
Quote: "£256.50, exc VAT"
Posted: 3878 days ago

Damn you Max Barry. I try to use my Saturday productively. But I'm lured into finding out about Allevia, the bone science specialists, and their trademark.

Here's the registration: http://www.swissreg.ch/srclient/faces/jsp/trademark/sr30.jsp

Click 'Nummer' and you see what services Allevia has regsitered its name for:

"42
Services scientifiques et technologiques ainsi que services de recherches et de conception y relatifs; services d'analyses et de recherches industrielles; conception d'ordinateurs et de logiciels; services juridiques.

44
Services d'agriculture, d'horticulture et de sylviculture."

Well quite. 'conception d'ordinateurs et de logiciels' means software and computer design, I suspect. Sylviculture - quelle word that is. I looked it up: 'foresty; sylviculture'. There.

What's a bit sad for Allevia is this: even if Max had set up Nation States as a bone biology services company (which he hasn't), a software design house (nope) or it wasn't 100% clear that Allevia is a fictional, non-trading entity (it's actually 110% clear), trademark registration is jurisdiction-specific. It only applies to the countries where it's registered.

Registration in Switzerland doesn't carry much weight in Australia. Or in the US, even if Coca Cola launch a bone-strengthening diet drink for sylviculturalists called Allevia Lite.

Or in a new state, formed by a reunited North and South Korea, called the Republic of Allevia (formerly North and South Korea), basing its constitution on the principles of Nation States' very own Allevia.

See how the internet eats your time? Must. Shut. Down.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 3878 days ago

Wow. It's just so professional to send someone something as "important" as this, and spell every other word wrong. real convincing Allevia.

Kit (#850)

Location: UK
Posted: 3878 days ago

Yes... very interesting max, but whats the premise of your latest story?

Yubi Shines (#1664)

Location: Canada
Quote: "HOPE RIDES ALONE!"
Posted: 3878 days ago

Bahahaha! Awesome!

Cathy (#1802)

Location: UK
Posted: 3878 days ago

If they don't like a fictional nation being #5 in Google for Allevia they possibly won't find it as amusing as I do to note this article is currently at #8!

Jason C. (#1266)

Location: Drive north from Max's place for about four/five days
Quote: "Be just. And if you can't be just, be arbitrary."
Posted: 3877 days ago

Well, that's funny 'n' all (it would be funnier if we didn't expect idiocy from anyone calling themselves "chief operating officer" to make their place on the payroll sound less redundant). I followed your links and am now wondering if you know anything more about the H.R. 683, Trademark Dilution Revision Act. I'd google it myself but I'm at uni and have a damned thesis to research.

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 3876 days ago

(quote) If they don't like a fictional nation being #5 in Google for Allevia they possibly won't find it as amusing as I do to note this article is currently at #8! (/quote)

Yeah - that was my second thought about this story the other day. I think this backfired badly ar Monsiuer Mainil-Varlet...

Oodge (#2790)

Location: Tas
Quote: "'Ooh look Marge, Maggie lost her baby legs.'"
Posted: 3876 days ago

i think thats hilarious that he used coke of all things. i will be congratulating "Allevia" on his courts success/having joined a game with such a corporation hating inventor

skills Max(x)

Luiz Eduardo (#1601)

Location: Minas Gerais, Brazil
Quote: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people"
Posted: 3876 days ago

Good Job, Barry. I wouldn't have imagined you'd protect your players like that...

Romanar (#2831)

Posted: 3876 days ago

That is funny!

Shawna (#2485)

Location: San Francisco, CA
Quote: ""She is a child of ferocious will. She would question the universe if it could answer." - Anon"
Posted: 3876 days ago

Amazing. I love it!!

Sven B. (#2792)

Location: Paris, FR
Quote: "If you did not make it, don't try to fix it."
Posted: 3875 days ago

This is just plain AWESOME !

How can people be so amazingly stupid ?

I'll go with almost every and each other comments :
- Mr. N. Jackson have lots of spelling to improve;
- I'm going to sign-up again to NationStates and create the Evil Corporate State of Microsoft (or Coca-cola, or somethin')
- When will people understand the difference between fiction and reality ? Errr... Might be a trick question, here...

Bony Tony (#1343)

Location: United States
Posted: 3875 days ago

Wahahaha, thank you Max for the great read. =]

Mike S. (#2839)

Location: San Francisco, CA
Posted: 3873 days ago

I'm sure Dr. Mainil-Varlet is happy to see that this article is the new the number five match on Google’s “allevia” results.

Sudi (#2895)

Location: Ithaca, 10 square miles surrounded by reality
Quote: "Mostly lucid"
Posted: 3844 days ago

Its like they ladle themselves onto your plate :)

Theo (#2909)

Quote: ""I don't take no stock in dead people"- Mark Twain, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn""
Posted: 3836 days ago

I'll bear in mind not to make a nation called "McDonalds Fast Food Resturant"

Spencer (#2936)

Location: BYU
Quote: "I'm an X, Y-ing your Z!"
Posted: 3825 days ago

Here is something ironic:
As of this comment, there are 42 comments. Also because of the fame this has caused Allevia, he/she now has 42 endorsements in NationStates, the game.
42 comments and 42 endorsements... weird... but cool.

Aaron (#2960)

Posted: 3812 days ago

if you actually read this...... and some how i expect you to have better things to do then i would like to point out the following-

coca-cola isnt sueing you.....which is odd because The Republic of Coca-cola TM is an actual nation although it appears to be a new one and could just have arisen out of this whole thing.

secondly allevia is a bastard for getting so much PR out of this i secretly think that it was this nation posing as an european buisness sloely for the purpose of getting UN recommendations

ive watched far to many conspiracy films not to think otherwise

*slowly pulls back the curtain to make sure no one is listening*

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