Is Twitter’s Trademark At Risk of Genericide?

As per a filing by Twitter with the Securities and Exchange Commission late last year, its trademarked word “tweet” risks becoming genericized, and is therefore invalid or unenforceable. In the filing, the counsel for Twitter explained that there was a risk that the word ‘Tweet’ could be used so commonly that it becomes associated with any short comment posted publicly on the Internet, and if anything this that happens, they could possibly lose protection of that trademark.

A trademark is said to become “genericized” when the general public begin to use the trademarked name to refer to a certain class of products or services rather than to use the product or service of that particular company. Some well-known examples of “genericized” trademarks include Xerox, zipper, aspirin, yo-yo, and thermos.

Twitter had initially made attempts to register the word “Tweet”, but could not do so as another company had already successfully filed trademark for it. The term was trademarked by a company named, Twitad, a promotional company for advertisers looking to advertise their products on Twitter. Twitad filed for the word “tweet” in 2008 as part of its slogan: “Let Your Ad Meet Tweets.” Twitter consented to drop the lawsuit against Twitad in lieu of transferring the registered trademark of “tweet” to Twitter. Both the companies agreed on the matter and Twitter finally acquired word “tweet.”

In 2008-2009, the popularity of Twitter shot up and it became a leading social networking website, with approximately 554,750,000 active users. As a matter of fact, the dictionary Merriam-Webster already has the word “tweet,” indicated as “a post made on the Twitter online message service.”

Although such short comments are increasingly being used in social media sites, USA Today theorizes that such genericide may not happen anytime in the near future. What Scott Martin explains is that, “what remains to be seen is how widely used the word Tweet becomes and whether it gets introduced into the general lexicon as a verb. If companies begin to use “tweet” as a verb in generic reference to their products, Twitter’s trademark protections may come in question.”

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