A Handbook of Contemporary Research
Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Graeme B. Dinwoodie and Mark D. Janis
Chapter 3: A search-costs theory of limiting doctrines in trademark law
2 The semiotic account of trademark doctrine and trademark culture Barton Beebe I. Introduction Semiotics is the study of signs and sign systems. While linguistics concerns itself specifically with human speech, semiotics investigates “the processes and effects of the production and reproduction, reception and circulation of meaning in all forms, used by all kinds of agent[s] of communication.”1 Semiotic thought developed into its own distinctive field of inquiry in the latenineteenth and early-twentieth centuries at a time strangely coincident with the development of modern trademark doctrine.2 It was during this period that the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure projected a bold extension of his research in structural linguistics: “A science that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable . . . I shall call it semiology (from Greek semeîon ‘sign’). Semiology would show what constitutes signs, what laws govern them.”3 Since Saussure’s time, semiotics (or semiology) has developed into a sophisticated systems-theoretical field of knowledge of enormous reach and ambition. The semiotic tradition forms the foundation of the past century’s structuralist and poststructuralist thought across the humanities.4 In this short chapter, I will seek to show how semiotic concepts can be applied to clarify and ameliorate fundamental areas of trademark doctrine and policy. Elsewhere I have set forth at length a semiotic analysis of trademark law.5 My purpose here is not to reprise that account, nor is it simply to cele* Associate Professor of Law, Benjamin J. Cordozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. 1 ROBERT HODGE & GUNTHER...
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