A worried consumer writes Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal:
Q: I have just installed a cable modem and Linksys Wireless Network (802.11b) in my home. Did I make a mistake by not going with a “Wi-Fi” network? I’m now worried I won’t be able to hook up to Wi-Fi networks when I’m traveling with my laptop.
to which Mr. Mossberg replies:
A: You most likely did go with a Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi isn’t a technology per se. It’s actually a label bestowed by an association of companies on wireless gear that meets certain standards for interoperability. The companies pay the association, which is called WECA, to test their equipment and bestow the Wi-Fi label. The engineering term for the underlying technology in the equipment is either 802.11b, 802.11a or, soon, 802.11g. But the popular trade name is Wi-Fi.
You can check whether your wireless product is officially Wi-Fi compatible by going to the WECA Web site, at www.weca.net, and clicking on the icon that says “Wi-Fi Certified Products.” Even if a particular product isn’t officially Wi-Fi certified, it may still be compatible with Wi-Fi gear, but there’s no guarantee. Most, if not all, Linksys gear is certified as Wi-Fi compatible. You should find a Wi-Fi logo somewhere on the box or the unit itself.
From a trademark point of view, WI-FI is functioning as a certification mark, owned by WECA. Certification trademarks don’t indicate the source of a product like a conventional trademark, but instead indicate quality (Underwriters Lab Approval), regional origin (Roquefort Cheese) or the origin of a component (such as union labor).
I was surprised to read in McCarthy’s that TEFLON is a certification mark owned by DuPont (which itself no longer makes Teflon). LINUX is not a certification mark. The owner of a certification mark cannot refuse a license of its mark for any reason other than the failure to meet certification criteria.
Here’s fun: use WI-FI (and WIFI) as metasearch terms and see how many applicants may be trying to claim some rights in the term.