Trademark Musings

Thoughts on trademark issues by Laura Winston

I Tweet but I Don’t Podcast

As far as I know, the people behind Twitter invented the term “tweet”.  It immediately became a verb.  Like the songbirds outside my window, people are tweeting away (in 140 characters or less, of course).   Please follow me at

Marketing geniuses invented the term iPod for Apple’s category killer.  According to Wikipedia, “PODCASTING” was first used in the newspaper The Guardian in early 2004, along with other suggested terms for making a broadcast available for downloading from the internet.  

Apple did not try to protect the term PODCAST or stop people from using it, as far as I know.  It is, in my view, a fascinating example of an immediately generic term borrowed from a brand-name, and now applied to internet broadcast downloads regardless of what type of mp3 player one is using (and let’s face it, who’s not downloading to an Apple?), or even just listening over one’s computer, not necessarily from iTunes or on a Mac.

Apple did obtain 2 trademark registrations for IPODCAST, but Apple did not have to file any proof of use in order to get these registrations.   Apple was able to base the applications on Hong Kong applications for the mark.  I suspect that Apple obtained these as defensive registrations — when it realized that PODCAST was not a term it could make proprietary, it registered IPODCAST as part of a strategy to limit the encroachment of its brand.  But podcasting is fair game, people.

As for TWEET – Twitter filed an application to register TWEET that is currently suspended because there is a prior application containing TWEET.  As of now, the US Trademark Office has not taken the position that TWEET is descriptive.  There are several other applications containing TWEET, filed by other parties, after Twitter filed its application.  These include TWEET PRIZE, TWEET ONE LOUDER and yes, TWEET SEX.  Also, 20th Century Fox filed an application for TWEET-PEAT; clearly their legal team believes that TWEET is not proprietary to Twitter.

Even if the Trademark Office eventually determines that Twitter has the right to register TWEET, I think it will have an enforcement nightmare on its hands.  People are always talking about tweeting.  Right now it’s associated with Twitter, but now that Fox is using TWEET-PEAT to put a social media spin on shows like Glee and Fringe,  the term may become as generic for short e-messages as it is for the sound of the songbirds.

May 10, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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