Corporate Eye

Twitter’s Trademark Stance

twitter_follow_meWhat’s a company like Twitter that is built by its open API development model to do when those same developers who support the product and make it easier for millions and millions of people to use use the Twitter name and look in their applications?  What if they use the word Tweet?

This month, Twitter has responded to developers and tech folks who want to know why the company is suddenly playing hard ball about its trademarks — including ones it doesn’t own yet.  For example, Twitter only applied for the trademark for the word “tweet” in April 2009, but the company is already telling developers to avoid using it in application names.  The company does own the trademark for “Twitter”, and while people are allowed to use the word in application names, etc., Twitter is encouraging people to get more creative with the naming of their own products.  The team behind Twitter is also getting a bit tougher about ensuring third-party applications look distinctively different from the actual Twitter interface.

I think it’s about time that Twitter started to get tougher in protecting its brand trademarks (and acquiring new ones).  There is no doubt that those names carry value, and while it’s important that the developer community and the open nature of Twitter be allowed to thrive, there is no reason that the brand names have to be used so freely.  Using a tagline such as “for Twitter” or “approved by Twitter” to distinguish between applications Twitter actually endorses vs. those that Twitter does not, would be a great way to help Twitter users differentiate between the best apps and to reward Twitter app partners.  Of course, I have no idea if this is something Twitter is interested in getting involved in, but even the simple “for Twitter” tag (rather than using Twitter in the app name) which offers no endorsement at all would work to tell people what the third-party application is for without infringing on trademarks.  

My point is this, protecting your brand assets is imperative.  While the initial buzz over Twitter’s stance on its trademarks was negative (you can read the TechCrunch post here and the Twitter blog post here), I think Twitter is doing the right thing.  What do you think?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.