Lessons In Smart Trademark Management: Free Licensing Of The Mark From Twitter
from the a-good-way-to-do-things dept
A year and a half ago, we noted how nice it was to see Twitter’s rather laissez-faire attitude towards trademarks, where it seemed to have no problem with third parties making use of Twitter-related terms in their own names — such as TwitPic, Stocktwits, Tweetdeck and many others. So, at first I was a bit surprised to see a report claiming that Twitter might be cracking down on those who use such names. The truth, however, actually demonstrates how many companies should respond to many trademarked situations.
First off, it’s worth pointing out, as people always do, that one of the oddities of trademark law is the idea that a trademark holder has to prevent others from using the mark without permission, or they run the risk of losing the mark. That leads to lots of nasty cease and desist letters from lawyers, and people defending them claiming they “have to” do this. But that is not so at all. First off, they only have to do that for cases where there is a likelihood of confusion, so they can certainly leave many other cases alone. But, more importantly, there’s another option out there, which very few trademark holders embrace: they can just give a free license out.
The story about Twitter is really just that the company has filed for a trademark on TWEET, which is perfectly reasonable. Just because you’re getting a trademark, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stop others from doing things (and, the TechCrunch post seems confused by a different trademark on Tweet — but trademarks are specific to areas of use, so it’s possible to have multiple trademarks on the same term in totally different areas of use). And, in fact, Twitter made a statement pointing out that it does, in fact, freely license its marks:
“We freely license “Tweet” for ecosystem partners who are using it correctly as part of accessing the Twitter API. That said, “Tweet” means something specific and we aim to protect that meaning. More on this can be found here: http://support.twitter.com/forums/26257/entries/77641.”
This seems like not just a perfectly reasonable trademark policy, but a smart one for encouraging others to help promote you and feel comfortable working with you as a partner. It’s really surprising how quickly most other companies go for the legal nastygram, rather than “freely license” trademarks in cases where the use is clearly promoting the brand.