In my previous life, I worked closely with Finland’s most active IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) department. Besides the current hot topic – the Apple lawsuit, Nokia monitors misuse of its trademarks.  There are very strict guidelines on how outside companies can use the Nokia name or any other protected names and terms Nokia uses in various product and service categories. They’re even very careful (and successful defending) variations of the name (like Aikon and Noka).

In trying desperately to understand and use Twitter properly, I am discovering that the Twitter company’s IPR department is allowing developers and others to run riot with the use of their two main (attempted?) trademarks “Twitter” and “Tweet”. This creates brand confusion.

Here are the top 21 Twitter-related applications, according to TwitStat

Twitter Applications Monthly unique visits

1. Twitpic 1,236,828
2. Tweetdeck 285,864
3. Digsby 233,472
4. Twittercounter 212,200
5. Twitterfeed  149,812
6. Twitterholic 147,164
7. Twhirl 143,333
8. Twitturly 88,793
9. Twtpoll 74,154
10. Retweetist 60,051
11. Tweepler 51,304
12. Hellotxt 45,754
13. Twitdom 45,411
14. Tweetscan 44,463
15. Tweetburner 41,754
16. Tweetvisor 31,621
17. Twittervision 30,708
18. Twitterfall 29,592
19. Monitter 25,433
20. Twibs 17,168
21. Twistori 16,229
22. Twitbin 14,986

Twitter have an IPR department. They definitely ensure their users don’t violate other people’s IPR (copy articles, pretend they’re their own, use copyrighted pictures, etc.).  However, they have neglected to defend their own terms.

Here is a fantastic post from Sam Johnston who goes into the details of the Twitter Trademark Tangle. He explains that even the word “Twitter” (let alown “Tweet”) may not be ownable by the company.  That leaves them with the twitter URL, and a microblogging system with a big ecosystem.

And herein lies the branding conundrum.

  1. Twitter wants the ecosystem to develop organically. They want to encourage developers to make various apps that encourage people to Tweet more, and that hardwires Twitter into other activities like WordPress blogs and Facebook.
  2. Small developers are looking to create relevance (not differentiation) when deciding on the name of their application. This invariably means including the term “Twitter” or “Tweet” in the name. If it doesn’t include these terms, it’s hard for them to get noticed.
  3. Twitter doesn’t challenge anybody on use of these terms, because they’ve already allowed it, and retroactive name obstacles / renaming requests would cause furore in the hundreds of thousands of e.g. TweetDeck users.
  4. That furore would be posted on… Twitter

The confusion that ensues does not affect Twitter early adopters. It mostly affects the next wave of people that are interested in using Twitter, but are totally confused by the hundreds of Tweet/Twitter/itter names that have not been endorsed or approved by the original brand.

If a brand is the complete set of associations a consumer has with a product/service/name/logo, I would venture to say that people in the Twitter company have lost control of their brand(s) and will struggle to wrestle it back. Brands with no control find it difficult to make it into the mass-market.

By the way, today’s post is the first on to be automatically tweeted. I used a WordPress plug-in called WP to Twitter. My biggest problem talking about Twitter and all these other words is that I feel like I sound like a twat.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hey Georgie, you may want to double check the meaning of the word twat…it has a number of definitions…maybe you know this and are fine with it, maybe you don’t know and just made up a fun word starting with “tw” and ending with a “t”…just in case you didn’t mean to call yourself part of the female anatomy in a vulgar manner…

  2. I think that’s what I meant.

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Brand Reminders, Intellectual Property Rights


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