Margaret Chon, Donald & Lynda Horowitz Professor for the Pursuit of Justice, Seattle University School of Law.


We live in a world of information. Together, both the so-called copyright (or content) industries and its consumers (via user-generated content) provide an enormous amount of information (or content). But paradoxically, we simultaneously suffer from a deficit of “smart” information. Smart information is information that is traceable and therefore reliable, trust-worthy, and ultimately verifiable.  This essay sets forth various reasons for this scarcity of smart information and proposes one type of solution in the realm of consumer goods: a tracermark. Earlier work examining the function of certification marks in global value networks (aka ‘supply chains’) points to an urgent albeit emerging need for more nimble, hybrid, and transparent forms of marking products and services.

Global digital networks have the potential to be combined with other kinds of technologies (e.g., QR, UPC codes, smart phone apps, and other forms of smart information intermediaries) to contribute meaningfully to the production of smart information and therefore to the regulation of goods and services in the consumer interest. Smarter information can be incentivized into the direction of creation and disclosure within a soft regulatory framework. And recognized categories of intellectual property such as trademarks and certification marks then could evolve to impart more information about specific process measures, in addition to more overt product characteristics – that is, to trace so-called credence as well as the more commonly accepted experience (or search) attributes important for consumers. Proposed here therefore is a tool called a “tracermark” (a hybrid of trademark and certification mark), which would allow stakeholders to disclose and trace the provenance of opaque quality attributes associated with particular goods and services throughout global value networks.

A draft of the paper is available on request (please contact -