when is liquid metal liquidmetal?

“What do you do when you find a space man? - You park in it.” was a joke from “The Christmas Lunch Incident” episode of The Vicar of Dibley.

True to classic British comedy it was the deadpan delivery that made the joke.  To the ear there was no pause between space and man, so it sounded like one word.  But of course the answer tells us there were two words.  Similarly, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is when it is one word, not two.  It is the space man.

Why am I asking this question? Let’s go back a bit.  The article “Microsoft Surface’s Liquid Metal Is Not The Same As Apple’s LiquidMetal” recently appeared in Forbes.  It began with the words “This is going to be slightly confusing for everyone …”.  Well it was indeed confusing.  It is not because the subject matter is inherently difficult to communicate.  Rather, the article’s initial words came to life because the article was poorly written and littered with technical points that fell into the “not quite” category.  I will not spend time clearing these up because I feel they are a red herring.

To give the article some credit it does touch on standard phrases and trademarks.  In the end it is likely the concept of trademarks that is the most important here.  While I am not skilled in the art of trademarks, so to speak, there are a couple of basic concepts that will go a long way.

A trademarked name or term is often a non-generic combination of words.  It can also have a unique spelling or be used in a non-standard way.  A second concept is the all important field.  Since a trademark is a concept used to distinguish oneself in a given field the same term can be used in different fields.  They key is that there is no confusion.  Back to liquid metal.  If you search the trademark section of the USPTO for the term “liquidmetal” you will find marks associated with and owned by Liquidmetal, the company.  They have registered this term in a number of different fields in which they have interest.  If you now search  “liquid metal” with a space there are trademarks for products in fields where the separate words are not generic.  There is one (serial # 78835359) for makeup and one (serial # 78272544) for paints.

Now how does this apply to Microsoft’s Surface?  Microsoft used the phrase “liquid metal” when it discussed the casing, during the original introduction of the Surface.  A rather humorous and pertinent video synopsis of this introduction was posted here.  As pointed out in the video there certainly appeared to be at least some mimicking of Apple’s 2010 iPad introduction.  In this light Microsoft’s use of the phrase “liquid metal” would not be too surprising considering Liquidmetal’s agreement with Apple. Of course though  it would have been two words instead of one.  It is the spaceman.