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Is Twitter freaking out over 'tweet' trademark?

A developer was told by a Twitter employee that the company is "uncomfortable" with his use of the word "tweet"--as well as a user interface that bears a similar resemblance to Twitter's.

Is Twitter getting possessive of its own name? Maybe.

A developer building an application using Twitter's API was told via e-mail that Twitter took issue with the user interface of his application, allegedly very similar to Twitter's own, as well as his use of the word "tweet" in the application's name.

The developer forwarded the e-mail to TechCrunch: "Twitter, Inc., is uncomfortable with the use of the word Tweet (our trademark) and the similarity in your UI and our own."

Uh-oh. If Twitter is staking a claim to the word "tweet," that could mean a problem for TweetDeck, TweetMeme, PoliTweets, and some of the other extremely popular businesses built atop Twitter.

A few things to keep in mind here. One, the developer was also creating a service that looked a lot like Twitter, the TechCrunch post explains, which means that the use of the word "tweet" may really have been less important than the e-mail made it out to be. Second, it's a personal e-mail coming from a Twitter employee--not a company representative or executive--which means that it may not be perfectly aligned with the company's official stance on things.

(Case in point: A Twitter investor hinted to The New York Times that the company would be making money with virtual coupons. One of Twitter's co-founders said in a comment on a blog that the investor was "brainstorming on his own.")

But the tech industry does have a history of getting into one skirmish after another over names similar to their trademarks. Several years ago, Apple started sending cease-and-desist letters to some third-party equipment companies and fan blogs that were using the word "pod" in their names. Google, too, has taken issue with the word "googling" being used as a generic verb.

And as TechCrunch points out, Twitter has filed for a trademark on the word "tweet." On the other hand, being possessive of this term (which, it goes without saying, has been a dictionary word for centuries) might not be the smartest strategy, if Twitter indeed wants to be a Digital Age communication standard "like electricity," as one executive said last month. So we'll see how this one unfolds.

UPDATE at 11:49 a.m. PT: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has, as the company's executives often do when there's a rumor flurry about something Twitter's doing, put up a blog post to clarify. The answer, not surprisingly, is that these things are handled on a case-by-case basis.

And "tweet" is not a target, he said.

"We have no intention of 'going after' the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter," Stone assured readers. "In fact, we encourage the use of the word Tweet."

It's more complicated when developers choose to use the word "Twitter," though it had been a dictionary word long before the microblogging company adopted the term.

"Regarding the use of the word Twitter in projects, we are a bit more wary although there are some exceptions here as well," Stone wrote. "After all, Twitter is the name of our service and our company so the potential for confusion is much higher. When folks ask us about naming their application with 'Twitter' we generally respond by suggesting more original branding for their project. This avoids potential confusion down the line."