Not so fast, Twitter: 'Tweet' isn't yours

Although Twitter applied for the "tweet" trademark, it doesn't look like the company will be able to secure it, according to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office document.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

"Tweet" might be a word that has been popularized by Twitter, but that doesn't mean that the social network will be able trademark it.

According to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office documents found by blogger Sam Johnston, Twitter's application for a trademark on "tweet" has been preliminarily denied.

Twitter originally filed for the trademark on April 16. In the application, the company expressed its desire to use tweet "through the applicant's related company or licensee the mark in commerce on or in connection with the identified goods and/or services." It seemed like a standard application that, once reviewed, would make "tweet" one of Twitter's registered trademarks.

But after reviewing Twitter's application and sifting through its listing of pending applications, the Patent Office found that three companies had already applied for trademarks that contained "tweet" in their names. They were simply too close to the trademark Twitter wanted.

The Patent Office attached applications sent by those three companies--TweetMarks, Cotweet, and Tweetphoto--with Twitter's rejection notice. In that notice dated July 1, the Patent Office explained that each of those trademark applications were filed with its office before Twitter's application.

"Marks in prior-filed pending applications may present a bar to registration of applicant's mark," the office wrote.

It went on to say that Twitter's tweet mark "may be refused registration under Trademark Act Section 2(d) because of a likelihood of confusion between the two marks." It couldn't say for sure that it would be refused registration, since the three previous applications were still pending.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Patent Office notification to Twitter shows it was sent out the evening of July 1. Ironically, that morning, co-founder Biz Stone wrote a blog post citing his company's willingness to allow developers to use "tweet."

"We have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective but we have no intention of 'going after' the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter," Stone wrote on July 1. "In fact, we encourage the use of the word Tweet. However, if we come across a confusing or damaging project, the recourse to act responsibly to protect both users and our brand is important."

But the events surrounding that blog post, namely that Twitter asked a developer to find a new name and user interface because of their similarity to its own service, have become even more interesting with the knowledge that "tweet" isn't a Twitter trademark.

In an e-mail sent to that developer, Twitter wrote that it was "uncomfortable with the use of the word Tweet (our trademark) and the similarity in your UI and our own." The e-mail was made public on July 1.

Regardless of the timing, Twitter did not hold the trademark, even though its correspondence with the developer claimed it did.

Stone's blog post was written before the company apparently learned of the Patent Office's preliminary rejection notice. But it is noteworthy that in that post, Stone said that the company "applied" for the trademark. He didn't say that it was held by the company, like its correspondence claimed in the e-mail to the developer.

In either case, one thing is certain: Twitter, so far, does not hold the trademark to "tweet." And at this point, it doesn't look like the company will be getting it anytime soon--if ever.