Monday, July 27, 2009

Twitter's Trademark Dilemma

Twitter wants to trademark words such as "tweet" and "re-tweet". Problem is, those terms aren't exactly distinctive and, in fact, are arguably descriptive terms - a big no go zone for trademarks. In order to show that Twitter, in fact, uses such terms in commerce - TechCrunch reports a lame change of nomenclature on Twitter's website. Mindless updates are now termed "tweets" instead of "updates" - which had been the nomenclature used for Twitter since its debut.

Who cares and why does it matter? This will have no impact on the average Joe, we'll all go around saying we "tweeted" this or "re-tweeted" that without any fear of violating trademark law or, more importantly, a lawsuit. Twitter's efforts are aimed squarely at third party app developers and - the entertainment/broadcast industry. Twitter wants to be paid each time your favorite baseball announcer says "hey, tweet us the answer to the seventh inning trivia question" and so forth.

Twitter must have had some boneheads doing their legal work previously - what lawyer with any brains would let Twitter go on for over a year using the term "updates" rather than the best e-commerce branding term of recent memory in "tweets"? Perhaps such a boneheaded move will cost Twitter a trademark registration. It would be a shame as that may be the only way Twitter figures out how to actually make a buck or two. The lesson is that e-commerce ventures like Twitter need to retain experienced internet lawyers with the knowledge and foresight to stake out intellectual property territory before such rights are foolishly relinquished.