Dr Brent Alloway, associate professor at Victoria University, is planning a free lecture next month at which two of the archaeologists involved in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Professor Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna, will speak about the species. The talk is planned to coincide with the premiere of The Hobbit film, and Alloway had planned to call the lecture "The Other Hobbit", as Homo floresiensis is commonly known.
But when he approached the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns certain rights in The Hobbit, he was told by their lawyer that "it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark HOBBIT."
"I am very disappointed that we're forbidden … to use the word 'Hobbit' in the title of our proposed free public event … especially since the word 'Hobbit' is apparently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (and hence apparently part of our English-speaking vocabulary), the word 'Hobbit' (in the Tolkien context) is frequently used with apparent impunity in the written press and reference to 'Hobbit' in the fossil context is frequently referred to in the scientific literature (and is even mentioned in Wikipedia on Homo floresiensis). I realise I'm in unfamiliar word proprietry territory (as an earth scientist) … so I've gone for the easiest option and simply changed our event title." said Alloway.
My opinion is that of the io9 writer. (Also, how does using the word in this context depreciate the company's intellectual property?)
On the one hand, I can see a company that has a trademark interest in the word “hobbit” worrying about that word becoming generic. And Alloway acknowledges that he organized the lecture specifically to coincide with the release of The Hobbit film and capitalize on the name. But Alloway and his fellow scientists are clearly using the word in a different market—scientific, rather than storytelling—and the very fact that they call it “The Other Hobbit” acknowledges Tolkien’s invention of the word.
But regardless of whether the Saul Zaentz Company is legally obligated to protect its trademark interest in the word “hobbit,” it strikes me that this conflict could have had a very simple resolution. The company could have licensed the use of the word to the lecture organizers for a nominal fee. Even without the company’s blessing, however, Homo floresiensis remains a “hobbit” in much scientific literature—and in our hearts.