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Web 2.0 – what’s in a name?

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Saturday May 27, 2006 )

A lot it would appear. If you’re considering running a conference on Web 2.0 technologies, call it anything but “Web 2.0 Conference” – otherwise you may get a tap on the shoulder from O’Reilly Media or one of their partners.

O’Reilly were the company that coined the term Web 2.0 during a conference brainstorming session a few years ago between O’Reilly and MediaLive International. CMP, O’Reilly’s partners in the conference, have been taking steps to to register “Web 2.0” as their service mark, in order to protect the brand they state they’ve built up.

It seems the first to get a cease and desist letter were IT@Cork – a not-for-profit networking organisation for IT professionals who used the term “Web 2.0 Conference” as a name for an upcoming event. CMP sent the letter, but it was approved by O’Reilly.

The cease and desist letter can be viewed here

IT@Cork representatives had invited Tim O’Reilly to speak at this conference well before the letter was sent. Tim O’Reilly politely declined and reportedly made no direct mention or objection to IT@Cork regarding their use of “Web 2.0 Conference” in his response.

O’Reilly’s side of the story can be read here – along with follow up comments from their blog readers, some pithy, some of them quite incensed.

Interesting to note that the O’Reilly representative did mention that the reaction to IT@Cork was perhaps a little over the top. They are cutting the organization some slack *this year*, but I take that to mean that in future years, and in other cases, they will continue to pursue the issue vigorously.

I really don’t know what to make of these types of cases – I can see both sides of the story here, but if anything, this – and O’Reilly is by no means alone in these types of actions – is a really sad comment on the business world generally. We seem so quick to get on the phone to our lawyers these days instead of establishing communications with the offending party first. Play nice, then play tough.

I’ve often wondered how many millions of dollars the Internet generates for US lawyers each year. It’s also rather surprising how few lawyers in Australia focus on the web – it certainly seems that cyber-law would be quite a cash cow :).

I’m all for protecting brands, slogans etc. as they are valuable, but if the groundwork for protecting a word or words has not been executed quickly and that term becomes widely used before it is, it’s a bit like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. The resulting “cease and desist” letters and consequent actions only create bad feeling – sometimes amongst those a company can least afford to offend.

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