Will Twitter trademark 'tweet' before it’s genericized?
The San Francisco micro-messaging pioneer's action raises the perennially tricky question of whether a company can own the rights to a word that has so penetrated the English lexicon that, some argue, trying to own it is like trying to own the ocean or the atmosphere.
That's what happens when a trademark is "genericized." Think Xerox, Kleenex, Jacuzzi, Q-Tip and, of course, Google. All are silly words that became synonymous with their products, often to the chagrin of the owner, whose legal claim to the much-beloved mark becomes increasingly slippery as the word burrows into the vernacular. CollegeHumor.com offered a funny-because-it's-true take on the issue last week with a video called "Googling with Bing."
Twitter's pending trademark application is accessible by searching "tweet" through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The request (a portion of which as it appears on the U.S.P.T.O website is displayed above) was filed in April and, like most applications, will have to wait four to six months before a trademark examiner in the patent office evaluates it. A search reveals that the application is one of many across the decades for the word "tweet," including everything from sheets and pillowcases to a record company to a hydraulic system.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone explained the move this morning in a blog post, saying no harm was meant to the many applications that have grown up alongside the core service. Many of the services -- Tweetdeck, Tweetmeme and Tweetie, to name a few -- use "tweet" in their names.
"We have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective," Stone wrote. "But we have no intention of 'going after' the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter."
Still, in six month's time, Twitter may find that a lot of the tweet-birds have taken flight before there's a legal basis for protecting the mark.
-- David Sarno