by Owen Wengerd
Trademarks are interesting creatures. They serve a very specific and very limited purpose: to identify the source of a good or service. Trademarks are intellectual property, but unlike other types of intellectual property, the status and strength of a trademark can and often does change over time.
Identical trademarks can be used by different entities as long as this does not result in source confusion, so infringement is often not straightforward. If a trademark is abandoned, it eventually loses its status as a trademark. If a trademark becomes generic (like "aspirin" and "thermos"), it also loses its status as a trademark. Trademarks which had once been abandoned (or become generic) can be revived. For example, the Xerox trademark has been revived after many years of being used as a generic synonym for "photocopy".
Autodesk's attempt to register DWG as a trademark is an example of an effort to take a mark that started out generic and turning it into a trademark. This action is perfectly legal, if they can pull it off; but they'll need to overcome objections by senior users of the mark and demonstrate that consumers do in fact associate DWG with Autodesk.
I expect Autodesk will eventually succeed; it's just a matter of time and effort, and possibly paying off companies like Nemetschek North America to withdraw their objection. If Autodesk's registration attempt fails this time, they can continue using DWG as an unregistered mark, then try again to register it in the future. Unless someone is well funded and highly motivated to stop them, Autodesk will eventually succeed.
What will the world look like once Autodesk successfully registers DWG as a trademark? It certainly won't end. In theory, the world will improve slightly, at least from a consumer's point of view. After all, the purpose of trademarks is to prevent or reduce consumer confusion, which is a good thing.
A file extension is not a trademark, so registration of DWG will not give Autodesk any right to the .dwg file extension. It won't prevent consumers from using the term "DWG" in any non-commercial way they please. It certainly won't prevent competitors from reading and writing .dwg files, although it might limit what they call such files. In no material way does registration of DWG as a trademark give Autodesk control over the data in a .dwg file -- at least not more than they already have.
What a DWG trademark will do is strengthen Autodesk's RealDWG trademark, and open the door for Autodesk to claim other marks with DWG in them. It might give Autodesk a bit more ammunition if they want to use the threat of a trademark infringement claim as a weapon. It certainly will give Autodesk leverage for licensing its RealDWG libraries, because it can sweeten the pot by including a license to use the DWG mark when referring to the .dwg files produced with their libraries.