This Klingon murky legalese came up last month when Paramount Pictures sued Axanar Productions, the company behind a crowd-funded Star Trek film. Several sites reported on this issue because the film reportedly uses the pre-existing Star Trek theme, complete with characters sporting the Star-Trek classic mustard-yellow shirts, as well as one character whose ears were shaped a la Dr. Spock's signature physical feature, the pointy Vulcan type. What with the same language, dress, and a unusual body part, on the whole, the indie film wreaks of possible infringement. And that's why Paramount sued.
Leaving the ear shape and the shirt design aside, the Klingon language presents a particular quandary of determining who claims ownership. Disparities abound: In fact, the Klingon Language Institute and the Klingon Wiki state different claims. The former carries a disclaimer that Klingon is a copyright of Paramount. The latter, by contrast, cites the March 2016 Axanar lawsuit, indicating that Paramount claims copyright on Klingon, but does not necessarily possess it. Because Klingon is a language, its ownership nuances are governed differently than, say, Vulcan ears associated with a particular fictional character. Words of a language are considered facts, and facts are not owned, and therefore not copyrightable.
Intellectual property straddles the tightrope between available, free, general knowledge and patentable product. Within this, language propriety rests partly in the rope's strands, and partly in the world's citizens' waters below. This issue will be far-reaching in our hi-tech world.