Is Twitter Worried About Losing Control Over The Word 'Tweet?'

from the one-of-a-million-things-to-worry-about-when-you're-pushing-$18B-of-'pape dept

IPKat points out a rather interesting concern listed by Twitter in its IPO documents. Apparently, the company is worried about the word “tweet” becoming a generic term.

Among the stated risks was the concern that its trade marks could suffer genericide and become unenforceable. Specifically, Twitter stated in its filing, “[t]here is a risk that the word ‘tweet’ could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with any short comment posted publicly on the Internet, and if this happens, we could lose protection of the trademark.” How great is this risk? This Kat has yet to hear anyone refer to short messages posted anywhere other than Twitter as a Tweet.

Like IPKat, I’ve yet to hear anyone use the word “tweet” as anything other than in Twitter or bird-related contexts. The future may bring some watering down of the term, but it’s highly unlikely that “tweet” will become the next “xerox,” “kleenex” or “google.”

Google genericide is an interesting case, at least as much a product of the search engine’s ubiquitous use as anything else. It’s definitely less of a mouthful than telling someone you’ll “perform an internet search” or other words to that effect. The IPKat points out that Google’s genericide was anticipated by the search giant, which made a few clumsy efforts to head it off.

Google comes to mind as a company that faced such a risk as its popularity skyrocketed. It launched media campaigns reminding consumers that they were “searching the web on Google” or “Googling, but only on the Google platform,” and they were never, ever, “googling.”

Of some comfort to Google (other than its billions of dollars) is the fact that if someone says they’re “googling,” they’re almost certainly doing it “on the Google platform.” Google’s market share in search is dominant enough that “googling,” while being used in a generic way, is actually not a generic term. Googling happens on Google at least two-thirds of the time. Without a doubt, some people may be “googling” using other platforms, and I’m sure that somewhere, at some time, someone has uttered the completely feckless phrase, “I’ll google it on Bing.” Presumably this speculative person was promptly subjected to a corrective beating by horrified bystanders, unless said conversation took place within shouting distance of Redmond. (In which case, a beating still occurred, but the speech error being corrected was completely different.)

Is Twitter truly concerned that any truncated internet missive will be genericized as a “tweet” in the near future? I would say it’s about 100% not concerned about this eventuality. However, the nature of mandatory financial filings like these (along with 10-Qs, 10-Ks, etc.) is that every potentially negative eventuality, however unlikely, must be conveyed to purchasers in order to stave off hordes of angry shareholders wielding pitchforks and lawyers should the unlikely occur and severely devalue their holdings.

Twitter’s major problems are the patent battles it faces. Its own patent policy is groundbreaking in terms of allowing the inventors to retain their rights to their inventions (unlike most companies). The added stipulation that these patents cannot be used offensively sets a standard few companies are likely to follow. The concern about the potential cost of patent battles is in the filing as well, and IBM has already decided to coattail ride Twitter’s innovation by slapping it with a frivolous infringement suit. Success paints a big target on your back, as Twitter points out in its filing.

…we are presently involved in a number of intellectual property lawsuits, and as we face increasing competition and gain an increasingly high profile, we expect the number of patent and other intellectual property claims against us to grow

So, will Twitter become a trademark bully? Probably not. (Although its tendency to aggressively control usage of its API is somewhat concerning…) It has real problems to deal with, and if “tweet” goes generic, it will just be sign that it’s thoroughly dominated a market — not an indication that its brand has been weakened.

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Comments on “Is Twitter Worried About Losing Control Over The Word 'Tweet?'”

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timmaguire42 (profile) says:

Is "google" technically generic?

Since most users of non-Google search engines are deliberately choosing a non-Google tool, I doubt many of them would undermine their own statement by referring to the search as “googling.” I google things on Google. I search for things on other search engines.

As with 15 years ago, I am disgusted with the habitual overvaluation of internet companies that have difficulty turning profits. Twitter does many thing right and I wish them well, but I will not be buying their stock.

Anonymous Coward says:

Xerox and Kleenex Back from the Brink...

Xerox and Kleenex are two brands that were on the hairy edge of becoming generic, but then brought both names back from the brink with varying degrees of success.

For a while, “Xerox” became nearly synonymous with “copying,” which had to drive Xerox up a wall as competitors grew stronger. I do remember back in the 1980s saying that I wanted to Xerox something. At least in the United States, that usage seems rare.

It seems that most people have replaced the term “Xerox” with the term “copy,” in the U.S., at least. Part of this change may be due to the growth of competitors, and part due to Xerox working diligently to keep Xerox from being used as a generic name for copying processes through numerous advertisements. Xerox has successfully convinced the USPTO that they are diligently protecting their U.S. trademark from becoming generic, and the use of the term “Xerox” for copying seems to be in significant decline in the U.S.

Kleenex went further toward becoming generic when Kleenex went on an all-out campaign to change the usage of the word Kleenex to mean “facial tissue.” Kleenex has been aided by competitors, who see the usage of Kleenex as disadvantageous to them, and the vast majority of commercials now say things like “Puff’s brand facial tissue” and “Kleenex brand facial tissue.”

Kleenex is still often used informally to mean facial tissue, but if it appears in print or film, Kleenex is usually very quick to job on the erroneous use. Because Kleenex has a large and diligent system to deal with trademark abuse, they have managed to keep their trademark alive. It seems likely that the use of Kleenex to mean facial tissue is declining, and one day we may just say “tissue” (I do, because it seems like most versions of Puffs have lotion, and the lotion is undesirable to me, so I always ask for Kleenex brand and specifically say Puffs brand is unacceptable) instead of Kleenex.

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