Web 2 Trademark Issue

There's a tempest out there in blog land about my partners' use of the "bigfoot letter" tactic in defending their Web 2.0 trademark as it relates to conferences. Many of my readers are asking about it. I'm going to wait to comment on this in detail till I talk…

There’s a tempest out there in blog land about my partners’ use of the “bigfoot letter” tactic in defending their Web 2.0 trademark as it relates to conferences. Many of my readers are asking about it. I’m going to wait to comment on this in detail till I talk to Tim, who is on vacation and out of touch this week, but in short, I think this response from O’Reilly is pretty good. They screwed up by not first having a conversation with the folks in Ireland, and they relented on forcing the trademark issue right away. I’m sure Tim will have more to say about it, as it happened while he was gone, and I want to talk to him before I dive too deep. Meanwhile, this is not some evil plot to “own” Web 2.0. It’s narrowly limited to its use as a trademark for conferences. Remember, Web 2.0 is also about having a business that works. And not protecting your trademarks is simply bad business practice.

Update: Lots of comments, and also, remember that Tim is really offline, and has no idea this has happened. I want to hear from him, but meanwhile, Cory at BB has weighed in, and I like what he has to say.

46 thoughts on “Web 2 Trademark Issue”

  1. There is some irony here (2.0 is more about getting rid of rigid old age biz encumbrances than embracing them).

    However if ANYONE can legitimately claim a right to “Web 2.0” it’s Tim O’Reilly. He’s the key spokesperson, has fostered and embraced the concepts of Web 2.0 through things like Foo Camp, Web 2.0 conferences, very insightful presentations, collaborations, and blogs.

    I’m cool with you and Tom “owning” the phrase he coined…unless….

    2009 news items?
    Federated Media sells Web 2.0 Trademark to Microsoft.
    Jeremy Z brought up on assault charges.

  2. It may start out as protecting your conference name, but in the long run it is a negative move for a company like O’Reilly that prides itself in support for openness in software and technology. For a community that lives around slashdot, digg, wired.com, and the likes, this kind of news will live on forever.

    People will be making jokes about “service marking” Web 2.1, 3.0 and 6.9 service pack 2 release candidate 7 for decades, and the joke will be on O’Reilly.

  3. ‘Web 2.0 <event>’ (where event is a generic term like conference or workshop) was the wrong thing to trademark. Having done so, not forseeing how widespread the use of ‘Web 2.0’ would become, it was the wrong thing to defend. Changing the name of your shindig to ‘Web 2.0 Confab’ or somesuch would have caused your partnership little trouble, and would have been defensible, both legally and morally.

    I was so astounded by the premise of this story when it broke that I took pains to defend O’Reilly, suggesting that CMP was the source of the misstep. But Ms. Winge put that to rest.

    Your partnership will benefit tremendously by reversing course, quickly. Damage to the O’Reilly brand continues to accrue.

  4. i’m sure o’reilly has good business reasons for trying to trademark “web 2.0”, but it’s unnecessary because the real value of “web 2.0” is how closely people associate it with o’reilly. it’s widely seen as his creation and, as a result, he’s seen as one of the key thought leaders in the industry. by trying to own “web 2.0”, i think he actually devalues its value.

  5. A Web 2.0 Trademark may not be an ethical idea

    That would be like Tim Berners-Lee or CERN – demanding that you drop the “WEB” from Web 2.0.

    Supposed they fought any domain with the term “WEB” in it.

    OMG !- Cough… Cough… Wheeze… Wheeze

  6. I agree that normally protecting a trademark is important for businesses, but this is absolutely contrary to the whole spirit of “web 2.0”, which is all about community and social applications. The phrase “web 2.0” has 79,100,000 hits on Google. O’Reilly needs to simnply consider this as a measure of his success and drop pursuing any legal action against people who wish to have “web 2.0” events in their own organizations.

    It will only have the effect of making O’Reilly, both the company and the man, look bad. They need to reverse course and apologize for this. Not just to the Irish folks, but to everyone. Anyone who wants to have a “Web 2.0” event ought to be able to without lawyers breathing down their neck.

    In short, Full Reverse. Apologize.


  7. I am a huge O’Reilly fan, and I can understand the quandry:

    A) You coin a specific term, “Web 2.0”, that applies to the new breed of web applications.
    B) You create a conference using that term.
    C) The term you coined becomes a part of the “web” vernacular.
    D) You want to capitalize on your good fortune by hosting conferences about the technology you described using this term.

    Now, you DIDN’T invent the technology that you’re describing with the term, “Web 2.0”. You happened to come up with a catchy phrase that describes it. You are the historian, not the inventor. I, for instance, can call the modern trend toward rampant patent and trademark filing “Oreillyism”, but that wouldn’t mean that I should, as a mere historian/journalist, take issue with others using the term in conferences on “Oreillyism”, if they want to. The notion just seems ludicrous and ill-willed. I really thought O’Reilly was above this. If you really wanted to capitalize on “Web 2.0”, you should have not attempted to trademark it. Because now, if you continue down this path, you’ve lost mine, as well as many many others’, respect within the Web 2.. err, I mean Web 2.1 movement.

  8. If O’Reilly were suing someone for using the terms “O’Reilly” or “Safari Bookshelf” in a technical term, then no-one would be batting an eyelid.

    It’s that what’s being protected is more of a term, a buzzword, like blogosphere or mashup.

    Still, they can have it as a trademark. Because any coolness about it has gone. It’s a totally worthless name now. And anything else that O’Reilly comes up with now will be viewed with suspicion.

  9. I thought it a rather awful response, especially this bit:

    Just as O’Reilly couldn’t decide to launch a LinuxWorld conference, other event producers can’t use “Web 2.0 Conference,” the name of our event.

    Some awful logic there. LinuxWorld isn’t a generic term. Conference is. Web2.0World would be a perfectly reasonable service mark, but Web 2.0 Conference? That’s as absurd as it would be to register “Linux Conference” or “IT Conference” and go after people for it.

  10. On the contrary, bad business practice is to publish an open letter to Jeff Bezos complaining about a generic patent and then turn around years later to make IP claims regarding a term that has obviously become generic. That is not integrity, and integrity is something I expect of all Web 2.0 companies.

  11. “Web 2.0 Conference? That’s as absurd as it would be to register “Linux Conference” or “IT Conference” and go after people for it.”

    Remember that we started planning the first Web 2.0 Conference in the middle of 2003 – well before this meme went huge. There was no “web 2.0” idea in the popular culture – in fact, it was Dale at OR that came up with the term. It’s not like we are trying to protect an idea that we “latched onto” – like Linux or something.

    Ad for Tim, well, he’s NOT ONLINE. He’s with his family on a boat in the middle of a very big body of water, as far as I can tell. Let’s not judge the man, who I’ve worked with very closely and really respect, till he gets back and has his chance to respond.

  12. “And not protecting your trademarks is simply bad business practice.”

    Riiigghht…and threatening not-for-profits for using a generic term is? You see by doing this you’ve probably lost any profit you would have made by enforcing your Web 2.0 conference trademark. Brilliant!

  13. As I said, as they said, as we all said, sending the Bigfoot letter to the non profit was a mistake. We’re SORRY. Tim and I did not know it was happening. This was done by the legal departments and business folks at CMP and O’Reilly. I was not in the loop – I run the program, not the business. Clearly it shoudl not have been done, and from what I’m told, it has been worked out with the folks in Ireland. And we apologized. As we should have.

  14. “As I said, as they said, as we all said, sending the Bigfoot letter to the non profit was a mistake.”

    No, no, no, no, no – that’s not the mistake!! And this is what no-one at, or associated with ORA seems to understand. The letter was a beauracratic cock-up that can and do happen in any large organisation. No problems, it’s understandable.

    It’s the intent to use what is now a generic term to screw over conference/event/gathering organisers for a few $s, and then attempting to justify it on the grounds of “good business practice”.

    Bezos could patent 1-click because his best customers don’t care about patents. Google censors in China because its best customers don’t really care about human rights in a country thousands of miles away. If you knew your customers, you’d know that they do care about this sort of thing. Know your customers, that’s good business practice.

  15. The members of the Global Arachnid Alliance insist that you cease and desist in any use of the term Web for any conferences and informal dinners. We have these rights established and in wrting at the Hall of Historical Silks, long before you humans transitioned from apes. Our Web 4 Inter-species Dinners in honor of the Insect of the Month, has been an lunatic event for over an 4 millennium (this is more then 52,000 dinners!).
    signed The Honorable Brown Recluse, current legal advisor to the GAA.

  16. Hey Brad. As I’ve said before, I am not the person who makes these decisions. I am the guy who does the program. Tim and his partners at CMP make this call, and he is not online. As much as I want him to make the call, he’s not here. We have to wait.

  17. “I think this response from O’Reilly is pretty good…. Remember, Web 2.0 is also about having a business that works. And not protecting your trademarks is simply bad business practice.”

    That doesn’t sound like “waiting.”

    To repeat myself, you don’t have a clue how much damage this is doing to your reputation, do you?

  18. Bradford – In 2003, the folks who started Web 2.0 decided to protect a trademark. I think that’s a good idea. I also think it’s a good idea to reconsider all this given where we are now. But before I pop off I’m waiting to talk with and hear from Tim. I wish you had the same courtesy.

    As for the damage to reputation, well, I take that very, very seriously. It’s all I have. If you think less of me for saying that businesses need to protect their trademarks, which is what I said, well, that’s your opinion. What do others think? I just linked to BB’s coverage of this, where Cory points out that perhaps it’s time to move ahead of this. I said I thought it was a great post. He said:

    “That means that O’Reilly needs to choose whether it’s going to retain control the word “Web 2.0″ for conferences, or retain control over the shifts that created the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

    I think being able to call the shots is more important than being able to own those calls.”

    I agree. And I look forward to being part of this conversation. I’m not judging anyone until I hear from everyone. Are you?

  19. I can appreciate that you would prefer to talk to Tim O’Reilly first. But a number of facts about this are already known and, I honestly cannnot see what Tim O’Reilly can say that will radically change the situation unless he can convince CMP to change its approach long-term.

    The service mark applications came from MediaLive (in the US in November 2003) and then CMP (in Europe, March 21, 2006). For reasons best known to MediaLive and CMP, the applications were for the phrase “Web 2.0”, yet the companies indicated “Web 2.0 Conference” as the service mark in the promotional material and logos. That led people to believe that the companies thought any trademark was on the longer phrase and that “Web 2.0” remained a generic. Without checking on USPTO, there was no way anyone could see a trademark claim on “Web 2.0”. This was a) dumb in business terms and b) misleading in market terms.

    Further, sending a demand to a European conference organiser claiming ownership of a trademark for which the application was only slightly more than two months old – and after a number of seminars with “Web 2.0” in the title had been organised in the region – was even more stupid. Gracious of them “not to force the trademark issue” under the circumstances, as neither CMP nor O’Reilly had any power to enforce it.

    Did CMP or O’Reilly go after Mesh – “Canada’s Web 2.0 Conference”? The Canadian service mark application was filed a day before the EU submission. I think we would have heard about it if that had happened and I cannot find any indication that Mesh licensed the service mark from CMP. If that had happened, you can be sure there would be reference to trademarks on the Mesh website. So, it seems CMP, with O’Reilly’s knowledge and tacit agreement, was prepared to bully a small player, presumably in the hope of gradually bolstering the position of the “Web 2.0” service mark. But a bigger conference was left alone.

    And what is Tim O’Reilly going to do when he gets back? Tell CMP not to do this anymore? It’s CMP’s name on the applications. Short of invoking a contractual clause allowing them to terminate the relationship (if such a clause exists), O’Reilly has very little control over its partner’s strategy for creating a “distinctive” service mark. Realistically, the only way forward is to improve the protection on the “Web 2.0 Conference” and any other distinctively named spinoffs. I doubt if anyone would argue with that. And then they’ll have to have words with the Mesh organisers, which could be interesting.

  20. Hi John,
    I applaud you for appealing for calm as Tim cannot respond.

    However this is about how-things-are-done.
    Clearly we need unencumbered terms. The service mark was not made clear from the outset had it been then I suspect the community would have used a different term from the outset. This seems very sneaky.
    The communities forming around new ideas need to learn to protect themselves from this sort of thing (retrospective meme-grab after community adoption).
    The (O’Reilly)”Web 2.0 conference” was a success because people came.
    People and Communities make things happen, they make stars of people and ideas – and now they are waking up to this fact they do not want a community of ideas they have helped build to be controlled in any way.
    Sure this time might not be an ultimate evil but it is a step towards it.
    The common folk need to bay for blood now because they have been wronged – there is a tree growing on the commons with a wee fence around it.
    If we let this slide it’ll get worse.
    Sure you could say O’Reilly is a good guy let him have his mark, but things change hands down the line, policies change – remember UNIX and why we needed GNU.
    Also O’Reilly conferences are for big players, alpha geeks, those with plenty of cash – c’mon admit it, they are really really expensive and banning less well off people & charities from labelling their gatherings correctly is really stinky rotten.
    It is a very wide mark, referring to any form of gathering or education. So legally this cudgel can be used for a lot more than stopping conferences being properly labelled.
    There were doomsaying cassandras who noticed the mark from the beginning (see the edit history of Wikipedia for web2.0) but they were shouted down by calls of “Tim’s a good guy” now they have been proved right, still we hear “stop the protest Tim is a good guy” & “Tim didn’t do this, his agents did”.
    This is completely irrelevant, it is a matter of principle, a matter for the commons of how not to get conned in the future. The fact that it is Tim and you guys are involved lends hope to the fact that a concrete future proof solution will be found, like TradeMarkLeft or commonMarks or something
    If the common folk weren’t here gnashing teeth nothing would have happened and other less good guys would copy this method of fostering community adoption, secretly ring fencing a particuarly lucrative area.
    Many Thanks,
    Best Wishes
    Jason Malcolm-Herzmark

  21. Come on … how “Web 2.0” is O’Reilly really … “unavailable and offline” while on vacation when something this contentious is playing out, all centered on him?!? Has he ever heard of “wifi” — another term we all use freely.

    Of course, O’Reilly’s most “UN-WEB 2.0” characteristic is his refusal to ever promote women speakers at his conferences.

    His conferences seem passe to me, and would be better renamed “Web 0.0” with his reluctance to acknowlege women leaders in this era. Which century is he in?

    Halley Suitt
    CEO, Top Ten Sources

  22. If it would have been very transparent from the start O’Reilly aims to “own” the term Web 2.0, even in limited contexts only, the term simply wouldn’t have been used to what it came to describe later on… and when I say transparent I don’t mean transparent to lawyers, but to the community that figured it could expand on the idea and make it grow to what it then became. The same community I’m sure is appalled by O’Reilly’s answers so far and simply will move on to new terms, and possibly, not rely on O’Reilly for inspiration in the future — there’s more than a single seed to choose from. Cory put it very well when he wrote, “If you’re going to name the next direction the world will take, you have to be prepared for the world to take that direction. Industry shifts become public property — or rather, things that are privately controlled can’t shift a diverse industry.”

    Copyright, trademarks, lawyers, editor-controlled sites are standard business practice. Creative Commons, lazyweb, free sharing, social sites are not. It’s really O’Reilly’s decision which part in this game they want to play, though they should know they can’t change sides easily. If Tim’s answer isn’t a radical turn from what we heard so far, I think O’Reilly partly ruined their image. Which, again, is really their own (business) decision — and that’s what I think you are saying John — but it’s backfiring, big time.

  23. I’d really like to know who ‘dallas’ is so I can correctly credit the coiner of oreillyism. The post is on my blog (accessible through clicking my name) dallas, please go and post a link to yourself!

    cheers. dave.

  24. Do as I say not as I do!

    I always have thought so hi of Tim and his endeavours — this debacle is confusing and not like Tim… Maybe it is the “evil corporate side” of CMP/O’Reilly that did this…

    Just the thought of trade/service marking “Web 2.0” is totally against the spirit of the Web and the Internet, AND more importantly, against the new wave of community, collective use, and evolution of the Web.



  25. This is a tough issue. I think one should protect their turf, but if one can own “Web 2.0” in terms of conferences, could one also own “Open Source” or for that matter “Blogging.” So all conferences that use the words “Open Source” or “Blogging” must get prior permission? No doubt these names emerged from someone or a small group. Or can TechCrunch claim to own Web 2.0 in terms of the “Web 2.0 Parties” they do? I sense more that people are worried about what this will lead to.

    Yet people know more than others tend to think, and would certainly raise alarm bells if someone else tried to do a Web 2.0 conference in the Bay Area at the same time. Maybe lawyers are just not needed here. People know who are leading an effort, and as long as they keep being creative and cool, they will get the respect and support they deserve. If they stop innovating, people will care less about their conferences, no matter how many trademarks they may own.

  26. Folks.

    For the record:
    Tim O’Reilly DID NOT coin the term Web 2.0. You might get away with saying that he and his organization popularized it, but he absolutely did not come up with it.

  27. This is quite ridiculous. Can we all agree to move on and begin using Web 2.1, Web 2.0.1, or Web 3.0?

    This makes perfect sense considering the last post (“the first mention of it, back in 1999”).

    Come on, 7 years and not a single new release? 😉

  28. It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad deed to lose it. –Benjamin Franklin.

  29. We ran into a similar problem – not with our use of Web 2.0 in a recent conference in March:) but with MIT in Chicago. They were using “Under the Radar” – which we do have trademarked. The fact that the event was in the US and had some similarities in terms of content made it an issue. They did change it after a phone call and email exchange. Official letters from lawyers create general ill-will and should be a last resort.

  30. The Web of documents has morphed into a Web of data. We are no longer just looking to the same old sources for information. Now we’re looking to a new set of tools to aggregate and remix microcontent in new and useful ways.

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  32. Whatever goodwill o’reilly had within the community, it just disappeared. keep on doing the good things that you’re doing and maybe “web 2.0″ will disappear from the lexicon so we can all move forward.

  33. Web 2.0 is happening, even if the word sounds very fishy and how it spread the last year it doesnt seem to disappear

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