Love the treatise, but what about those indices?

One thing that tends to happen when IP Kittens become hoary IPKats is that we do less and less hands-on legal research. This is particularly so when it comes to researching an issue in a multi-volume treatise. We become so reliant on talented young legal kittens that gradually the very tactile sensation of putting hand to the pages of a multi-volume treatise becomes a forgotten experience. Because of this, I had a real shock this week when I found myself standing in front of a shelf-full of volumes comprising the iconic treatise, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition. Bereft of any available research help at the very moment, I sought to examine several basic trade mark topics to get the kind of overview that only the McCarthy treatise can provide.

To do so, I immediately turned to the treatise’s indices: as great as was my expectation, so great was my disappointment. I simply was unable to find index entries that could reasonably take me to the relevant volume and sections. For those Kat readers who might not be familiar with this treatise, be assured that it is regarded as a leading (if not the premier) treatment of U.S. trade mark law. In its binder/loose-leaf format, it spans a number of binders (forgive this Kat if he forgets the exact number). The detail devoted to topics is astounding, leaving the reader with the feeling that maybe the author is providing more information on the topic than is necessary (although I am sure that others will disagree on this).

What is striking is the comparison between the first volume of the treatise, published over 40 years ago (a copy of which this Kat proudly maintains in his office) and the sheer scope of the current format. And therein lies the problem: whereas this Kat easily navigated that earlier form of the treatise from over 40 years ago, its current size makes usable indices a must. However, the scant indices provided were simply not up to the task. The result, this Kat spent a number of unnecessary hours simply trying to figure out where was the best place(s) to look in the treatise to learn more about the topics of interest.

This Kat can hardly be the first reader of the treatise who has felt the frustration due to inadequate indices. Further, as an author of a modest one-volume treatise, he recognizes that the preparation of indices is the task of the publisher and not the author. And so the question: why? A couple of answers come to mind. The first is cost, especially of the manpower needed to pigeon-hole in the indices a burgeoning number of topics within existing index rubrics. This is especially so since the treatise is a “must have” in any trade mark law library. Users will buy the treatise whatever the quality of the indices. Secondly, in light of the fact that there appears to be an electronic version that is available (where one can in effect self-index topics of interest), perhaps it is a way of trying to nudge readers to migrate to the electronic version. Whatever the reason, this Kat’s experience with the indices left an unpleasant taste in his mouth about the commitment of the publisher to provide the reader with a quality experience with the product.

More importantly, however, this Kat has a renewed appreciation for the great work that his legal Kittens do in trying to research challenging trade mark topics in the face of such substandard indices.
Love the treatise, but what about those indices? Love the treatise, but what about those indices? Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, November 28, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. Neil makes an important point. With the rise of search we are seeing the death of taxonomy. Information is losing its structure - becoming stupid.

  2. I like " information is losing its structure " : it's a sentence I've not come across before and puts into words something I've been feeling for a long time but not been able to express : thanks Neil and Thomas for combining to give this enlightenment !

  3. I've used the electronic version on westlaw and probably your point on that is right, as it is rather simple to find the exact topic you are searching for.


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