The Word “Droid” is a Registered Trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Daven Hiskey 1

A real android, model DER-01, unveiled at a 2005 Expo in Japan. This android can respond to a variety of commands in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English

Today I found out the word “droid” is a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Shortly before Verizon launched their “DROID” line of mobile devices, Lucasfilm Ltd. swept in and filed a trademark on October 9, 2009 for the term “Droid”.  Specifically claiming the term for:

Wireless communications devices, including, mobile phones, cell phones, hand held devices and personal digital assistants, accessories and parts therefor, and related computer software and wireless telecommunications programs; mobile digital electronic devices for the sending and receiving of telephone calls, electronic mail, and other digital data, for use as a digital format audio player, and for use as a handheld computer, electronic organizer, electronic notepad, and digital camera; downloadable ring tones and screen savers; cameras, pagers and calling cards.

As a result of this, Verizon pays Lucasfilm Ltd. an undisclosed sum for the rights to use this word as a brand name.

The word “droid” is just an aphesis form of “android”, a word that’s been around since at least the 1700s.  The first documented mention of “android” is in the Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopedia, “Albertus Magnus is recorded as having made a famous androides”. Android derives from the Greek ὰνδρο (andro-), meaning “man”, and the suffix -ειδῄς (-eides), meaning “form, likeness, appearance, or resemblance”; hence the definition of android being “automaton resembling a human being”.

The first known instance of the word “droid” being used was in the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope, hence Lucas’ initial claim on the word, though obviously not in any way being used to describe a wireless communication device necessarily, unless the particular droid was being used to relay messages wirelessly, which I suppose the Imperial Probe Droid in Empire Strikes Back had that capability, from a certain point of view.  You’ll note that unlike in most other science fiction where an android signified a machine that resembled a human, Star Wars’ droids need not have resembled human beings to be called such, though some did.

Lucasfilm Ltd. doesn’t mess around with this trademark either, as most don’t given trademark law requires you actively protect your trademark or lose it, often resulting in lawyers being a little overzealous in threatening lawsuits for potential trademark infringement.  If your brand name even just includes the word “droid” you might get a letter from them, such as a recent startup by Matt Cooper, Addroid.com (an ad company), that got a cease and desist notice from Lucasfilm Ltd.’s lawyers Morrison Foerster (at mofo.com, funny enough… don’t mess with the mofo lawyers).  Although, in truth Cooper was playing off the full term “android”, rather than droid, so perhaps Google’s lawyers should have been the ones filing suit.  In either case, it doesn’t appear as if Addroid has yet been forced to change their name, despite the threats.

Bonus Facts:

  • Artisans in China developed an elaborate functional mechanical orchestra around 200 BC.
  • Leonardo Divinci designed and built the first known humanoid robot around 1495.  This robot was an armored knight that could sit up, wave its arms, and move its head while opening and closing its jaw; presumably meant to scare children who were misbehaving. ;-)
  • Cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick recently became the world’s first cyborg, putting computer chips in his left arm that he uses to remotely control doors, an artificial hand, and his electronic wheelchair, among other things.  Among his more famous experiments: in 2002, using a connection to his nervous system, he connected through the internet and controlled a robotic arm, including being able to feel what the arm/hand felt through sensors in the hand.  Another extrasensory preceptor he has wired up to his nervous system is an ultrasonic sensor attached to a hat.  His wife has also been similarly equipped, though with a simpler device connected to her nervous system so that they can “communicate” with one another through the internet; more or less transmitting “feelings” to one another.
  • The first known human killed by a robot was in 1981, when a robotic arm, no doubt in a diabolical plot to try to take over the world, crushed a Japanese Kawasaki factory worker.
  • Many of the droids, including R2-D2 and C-3PO, on Star Wars were designed by legendary special effects man John Stears, a.k.a. “The Dean of Special Effects”.  Stears also designed Skywalker’s Landspeeder, the lightsaber, the Death Star, and a variety of other gadgets in the films.  He isn’t just known for his work in Star Wars, though, but also in the James Bond movies, known as “The Real Q” in that context, and for designing the flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, among many other films he worked on.

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