Twitter Inc.’s struggle to trademark the word “Tweet” serves as an important lesson regarding what can happen when other companies beat you to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
While many of us associate tweets with posts to Twitter’s popular social media network, the company doesn’t own the mark. In fact, the USPTO has suspended the site's trademark applications because other companies applied to trademark various versions of the mark before Twitter did.
While it may appear to some that Twitter dropped the ball, the scenario is actually quite common, especially when it comes to start-ups that take off quickly. In many cases, companies fail to recognize the value in their trademarks before its too late.
Thankfully, companies have several legal options in these situations, most of which Twitter has pursued. By way of example, we have outlined a few below.
Oppose Rival Trademark Applications: As part of the trademark approval process, a third party can file an opposition to registration of the mark. In the case of Twitter, it has opposed the trademark applications for "25 Tweets," "Tweetmarks," "Tweetiator," and "Luvtweet," among others.
Purchase Companies That Own Rival Trademarks: While it is clearly one of the more costly options, companies can purchase companies holding similar marks in order to control their valuable intellectual property. In the case of Twitter, the company purchased Tweetdeck, an application for organizing the display of tweets, for over $40 million after Tweetdeck applied to trademark its name in April 2009.
File an Infringement Lawsuit: In many cases, trademark litigation is also an option. Most recently, Twitter filed a lawsuit in California asking a judge to cancel a registered trademark for the phrase "Let Your Ad Meet Tweets," which is registered by Twittad, an online advertising company.
Twitter’s complaint argues that "tweet" was already "famous" as a Twitter term before rivals filed trademark applications and that Twitter is the mark’s rightful owner. It further contends that allowing other companies to register tweet-related trademarks "threatens to block Twitter from its registration and legitimate uses of its own mark."
The Bottom Line: All of the options discussed above clearly cost far more than the filing fee for a trademark application. Therefore, it is important for companies to act quickly to protect their valuable intellectual property.
At Sheldon Mak & Anderson, we recognize that innovation is your competitive edge - and it needs protection. As a full-service intellectual property firm with more than two decades of experience, we provide local, regional, national, and international legal services in the following areas: patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, IP litigation, international patent and trademark prosecution, licensing, alternative dispute resolution, and green technology.
Contact our knowledgeable intellectual property attorneys today at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) to find out how we can provide a powerful defense of your unique ideas.