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5 years of Twitter: A case of mismanaged trademarks

Posted by admin on: March 22nd, 2011

Twitter turned 5 years old this week. It is amazing how technologies penetrate our daily lives and how news is now created by and on and with Twitter all the time now – and many use it to following the news.  You can follow my twitter feed (generally a daily link to an “interesting trademark) at @tm4smallbiz.

Twitter is a good case study regarding the value and benefits of some foresight in protecting trademarks. The service – and the brand – are worth billions of dollars now.

– Step 1: Choose a distinctive creative name. Twitter certainly succeeding in the step as the word “twitter” has no meaning relevant to computing. But perhaps the meaning of the name is too remote – it does not really “suggest” any meaning either (to me at least). In my opinion, a suggestive name is the best kind.

– Step 2: File to register brand name, logo, and other key trademarks. Here is where Twitter failed initially. The application to register the TWITTER name was not filed until April 26, 2007 – more than 1 year after the service was launched.

An application for the “t” logo below was not filed until 2009. It was filed based on intent to use and is still a pending application.

TWEET and RETWEET were not filed until 2009 also and have been held up (“suspended”) because others filed to captialize on the Twitter success in the interim.

A company – particularly a successful company backed by lots of funding – should review and identify its core trademarks quarterly and ensure that they are filed. While money may always be tight in startup phase, the cost of filing these trademarks earlier – a few thousand dollars – could have saved tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in disputes.

Disputes – Twitter has had to get involved in trying to stop several other companies from registering similar names or from using brand names that contain “twitter” or “tweet”.  The disputes have been necessary because Twitter did not protect its trademarks early and was forced to block several other pending applications from others, like TWEET.ME, LUVTWEET, and TWITTERS BAR & GRILLE. Registering Twitter’s trademarks early would not guarantee less disputes, but it would be highly likely – and it would be very likely that with registrations in hand some or all of the disputes could have been resolved more quickly and cheaply, since Twitter would likely have a stronger claim against the other parties.

The longer it takes Twitter to knock out all the (alleged) infringers now and secure registration of its trademarks, the more problems Twitter could incur which means that possibly more disputes arise in the interim.

Lesson: A proactive strategy to register and protect trademarks is crucial for any business, especially a rapidly growing one. Such a strategy could end up saving the business from numerous disputes and significant expenses.

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