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Famous? Original?

For lunch, I ran out for a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza. I've not had a craving so strong in quite some time, so I had to act on the urge. My quick walk in search of pizza took me to Famous Original Ray's Pizza, and on my way back, I bumped into a co-worker, who told me that there were hundreds of Ray's in the city — but that only one was truly the original. That remark — how mysterious! — sparked quite the lunchroom conversation.

It turns out that there are tons of Ray's — and that they're all run by the same licensing company, Famous Original Ray's.

Even in New York City, where pizzerias named "Ray's" have sprouted on seemingly every corner, most are owned or licensed by one company — U.S.A. Famous Original Ray's Licensing Corp., which has trademarked the names Ray's Pizza, Famous Ray's Pizza, Famous Original Ray's Pizza and The Original Ray's Pizza. If any other pizzerias open using the name Ray, the New York-based company regularly stops them with lawsuits or letters threatening action.

That's one way to stem competition and confusion: Trademark every possible permutation of your name. (The original, original Ray's was in the Village near 6th Avenue and 12th Street.)

Another way to stem competition and assert an advantage would be to reclaim history. People joke about Al Gore's statement that he invented the Internet, but I recently encountered a similar situation. In a news release about a company called Dotomi, Yair Goldfinger is held up as the inventor of instant messaging.

While Goldfinger did have a hand in Mirabilis, the company that developed ICQ, I question this. And the mystery goes even deeper. AOL also claims that it invented instant messaging. It even patented it. ICQ is now a division of AOL, but I'm still confused. Maybe it's not about who invented "instant messaging" as a standalone application-driven experience. Maybe it's about what "instant messaging" means.

I find it farcical that someone — anyone — could claim inventing instant messaging in 1996. 1996! I'm no online old-timer, but I sent real-time messages to people online in the same network as early as 1990 — on the Well, as well as using other services. Is that not instant messaging?

Perhaps there is no famous or original any more.