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We own the Web (2.0)!

We own the Web (2.0)!

Under pressure from a cheesed-off blogosphere, CMP Media and O'Reilly Media have agreed to let an Ireland-based nonprofit group use their trademarked term in its conference name--but on an exception basis only. The trademarked term in question? "Web 2.0." Nice and general, right? Now, arguably, the term itself was born of a brainstorming meeting at O'Reilly, which then led to a conference by the same name, making a trademark (or service mark; it's not yet clear which) for conference purposes marginally acceptable--or at least logical.

Then again, as so many bloggers have pointed out, O'Reilly is the company whose founder also collected 10,000 signatures in an attempt to stop Amazon from enforcing overly broad patents on ideas that are not novel or nonobvious to people in the field (and really, you think no one would ever have come up with Web 2.0 but the O'Reilly collective?), and opposing patents on "commonly accepted and obvious techniques in an attempt to keep competitors from using them." Here, I'll grant that patents on technology are probably more innovation-stifling than service marks on generic terms--but I think any publisher, be it CMP or O'Reilly, should know that stifling ideas about technology is just as dangerous as stifling technology itself. They started Web 2.0 as a meme, and now they're saying that everyone else who wants to confab about the meme will have to dance, linguistically, around O'Reilly's "ownership" of that meme. (I foresee a lot of "Web 2.1" conferences in our future.)

O'Reilly says it will continue to defend its trademark/service mark as it applies to conferences or other live events with Web 2.0 in the name, and conference cofounder John Battelle says that failing to do so is just "bad business." But these days, it feels like life in the technology world is just a never-ending parade of patent litigation, intellectual property battles, struggles to maintain fair use, root kit invasions, assaults on the basic structure of the Internet, and the feeling that big companies are always pushing around the little guy. In this atmosphere, claiming ownership to an idea like Web 2.0--even in an extremely narrow context, even if it is just a service mark for use in live events and conferences--lines you up right alongside the telcos, the patent squatters, the Sony types, Amazon, or the RIAA. O'Reilly is the geeks' agenda setter, the New York Times of the Slashdot crowd. And if it's on the pushing side of the parade, then Web 2.0 has officially become a lot more than blogging, AdSense, Flickr, tagging, and pastels. If Web 1.0 was the our Industrial Revolution, the period of white-hot expansion and innovation, then Web 2.0 is, perhaps, the inevitable period of cold-eyed profit taking. So you have to forgive the bloggers their fury on this one. Revolutionary dreams die hard.