From "Exploratorium" to "Explainatorium"

The threat

Subject: Virtual Mathematics Exploratorium TM Violation
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 21:12:37 -0800
From: "Joanne Tashiro" <>
To: <>
CC: <>, "Debra Menaker" <>

Dear Webmaster: We are writing you regarding your company's use of the name "The Virtual Mathematics Exploratorium." As you may know, the EXPLORATORIUM® is the premiere museum of science, art and human perception founded in 1969.

The EXPLORATORIUM provides direct access to, and information about, science, technology, nature and art, and is known for its unconventional approach to culture in a scientific and technological age. In addition, the EXPLORATORIUM has collaborated with and influenced the development of more than 60 science centers and museums in the U.S. and throughout the world. The EXPLORATORIUM has worked diligently over the years to carve out a unique niche in the museum/learning world and to develop the goodwill and international reputation associated with its mark, including obtaining a trademark registration for its EXPLORATORIUM mark in over eighteen countries including Sweden (registration No. 221521). Your organization's use of the name "The Virtual Mathematics Exploratorium" is confusingly similar to our EXPLORATORIUM mark and violates our trademark rights under the U.S. federal trademark and anti-dilution statutes. To avoid further erosion of our trademark rights, we must ask that you immediately and permanently cease use of the EXPLORATORIUM mark. In order to facilitate an amicable resolution of this matter, please provide us with written assurances that you will do the following:

1. Permanently cease all use of the EXPLORATORIUM mark or confusingly similar marks; and,

2. Withdraw from retrievable channels of distribution all products/promotional materials bearing such marks.

Given the seriousness of this matter, we would appreciate receiving your written response with the requested information by November 29, 2002. You may contact us at:

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

Phone: (415) 561-0345

Fax: (415) 561-0307


Thank you for your courtesy and cooperation.


Debra E. Menaker

Chief Financial Officer/Director of Business Affairs

Our answer

Dear Debra Menaker.

It was with a strange mixture of sadness and irony that we received your threat to take legal action against "our company" for making use of the term "Exploratorium". The "company" you are referring to is the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, which is the major technical and natural science university in Sweden and one of the leading academic institutions in the world - as witnessed e.g. by our strong representation in the scientific committee that appoints the Nobel laureates in Physics and Chemistry.

2500 years ago Pythagoras stated that "unselfish knowledge is the best way to purify our souls". Today the so called "knowledge economy" teaches us that "selfish knowledge is the best way to fill our wallets".

At KTH we still try to follow the Pythagorean tradition, which is driven by intellectual curiosity - as opposed to the knowledge economy, which is driven by intellectual capital and intellectual property. Up until now we have been under the impression that we shared this driving force with the San Francisco Exploratorium, an organization that has managed to build quite a reputation here in Europe for its innovative pedagogy that challenges the traditional teaching of many academic institutions.

However, your letter shows us with undisputable clarity that this is no longer so. We do not know whether this shift is due to the fact that you have managed to hire a critical mass of lawyers and economists in order to effectuate a strategic switch from intellectual curiosity to intellectual property, although we find it hard to come up with a more plausible explanation for the post-intellectual attitude which is so clearly documented in your e-message.

However, regardless of the facts on which you base your reasoning, it is painfully obvious to us that we cannot afford the risk of being associated with an organization that takes the attitude to learning that is conveyed by your threats. As most universities today, we are struggling in a hardening economic climate in order to maintain the Pythagorean attitude to knowledge sharing that constitutes the very foundation of the knowledge philosophy that is necessary in order to maintain and improve the intellectual quality of society as a whole - in spite of the present knowledge-economic onslaught.

So, for these reasons - which outweigh our strong temptation to let you take us to court - we have decided to change the title of our "Virtual Mathematics Exploratorium" into the title "Virtual Mathematics Explainatorium". We will affect the change on our website within the next couple of days.

We are planning to publish our response to your threat as an open letter in order to stimulate a public debate around the issue of intellectual property versus intellectual curiosity. However, before we do this we will give you an opportunity to respond. We think it would be valuable if you could expand on your reasons for pursuing this kind of intellectual policy. Especially we would be interested in hearing whether you are planning to take legal actions against all the other exploratoria in the world, some of which are listed below as the result of a quick Google search. We have CC-ed the ones that we could find an e-mail address to in order to keep them informed and invite them to express their opinions on this issue.

I close this message by quoting a few words from a famous speech by Thomas Jefferson. To us, these words represent the attitude that once contributed to making the US a great nation and a role model for others throughout the world.

"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."


Ambjörn Naeve

Head of the Knowledge Management Research Group

Centre for user-oriented IT Design

Royal Institute of Technology

Stockholm, Sweden

A short list of some non-SF-affiliated Exploratoria - as revealed by a Google search

Re: Virtual Mathematics Exploratorium TM Violation
From: Richard Palais
Date: ⚠ 2002-11-30 16.52

Dear Dr. Naeve,

I wholeheartedly agree with your reply to Ms. Menaker. She sent me several threatening messages too. I strongly suspect that if this did go to court they would lose.

Dick Palais

Page last modified by May 05, 2005, at 02:34 PM