Did Twitter “Win” Battle for TWEET Trademark?

October 17, 2011


Last week, the dispute over the LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS trademark between Twitter and advertising firm Twittad was finally settled. It was reported that Twitter would drop its lawsuit against Twittad, and Twittad would transfer its trademark to Twitter.

Here’s the part that sort of annoys me. One of the largest publications to report on the settlement, the UK’s The Telegraph reported the story with the headline “Twitter wins battle over ownership of ‘tweet’ trademark”. So did Twitter actually “win” here? It settled the dispute, basically meaning it came to some agreement that both parties accepted. To come to an educated guess to decide who “won” the dispute, however, we are missing some information. Neither party has disclosed whether there were financial terms involved in the settlement, citing confidentiality. If Twitter paid Twittad nothing or close to nothing as part of the settlement, then perhaps we can say that Twitter “won”. However, if Twitter paid $100 million to Twittad, then can we confidently say that Twitter “won”? If the folks at Twittad had an all-nighter open bar celebration over the cash they got out of Twitter, then maybe not. Of course, saying that Twitter “wins” is a catchy headline. However, it is misleading and lazy journalism. Note that I’m not necessarily blaming the writer here. Having done some writing for newspapers in another lifetime, I know that someone other than the writer, perhaps the editor, may have created this headline.

Furthermore, to show that I’m not just picking on The Telegraph, other headlines stating “Twitter Will Get “Tweet” Trademark, Settles Lawsuit” [Wall Street Journal] and “Twitter Will Finally Trademark ‘Tweet'” [PC Magazine] are also not quite accurate. First of all, Twitter is not getting the TWEET trademark in the settlement, but rather they’re getting the LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS from Twittad. Also, stating that “Twitter Will Finally Trademark ‘Tweet'” implies that Twittad’s trademark was somehow blocking Twitter’s attempt to register its own TWEET trademark. Again, not accurate. A quick search of the USPTO database shows that Twittad’s trademark was not the roadblock to Twitter’s registration of TWEET trademarks (LINK, LINK). A look at the documentation shows that Twitter has other challenges to register these trademarks, with Twittad’s trademark not being cited once against Twitter’s applications. Misleading headlines are not new, of course. They turn eyeballs, which in turn, translates into traffic and satisfied ad owners on these websites. Besides, saying that Twitter “wins” or will “finally trademark” TWEET is.. well, quite catchy.