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Twitter Retries Registering Retweet

This content is 14 years old and may not reflect reality today nor the author’s current opinion. Please keep its age in mind as you read it.

Hopefully you’re not sick of hearing about Twitter, Inc’s trademark woes (and yet another alliteration) because yes, they’ve been at it again.

Conceding that the USPTO has successfully torpedoed their trademark on “tweet” but otherwise undeterred they’ve just tried to lay claim to the more specific term “retweet” (#77804841). While admittedly more distinctive (and therefore less problematic from a legal point of view), let’s not forget that they recently came under fire from developers for unjustly suspending retweet.com‘s @retweet account, having announced plans for an official retweet function of their own (more on Project Retweet at Mashable).

This functionality could well prove as important for microblogging as Google’s PageRank did for Internet search and it’s definitely not the sort of thing we want to have locked up with a single provider. The idea is that it provides a way to value a user’s contribution based on how many people (and who) retweet a user’s tweets (a TweetRank, for want of a better name).

So what’s the problem with Twitter, Inc registering “retweet” as a trademark? It’s not theirs to register, that’s what. That’s right, the “gesture and syntax of retweet was invented by users” and even Twitter’s own web interface still lacks the very functionality they are trying to take control of (and will for weeks to come no less). The retweet “micro-convention” has been meticulously documented and extensively discussed by active twitterers (twits?) who have gone so far as to write an essay on retweeting etiquette. Nothing I have seen anywhere credits Twitter with the invention of the retweet (which according to Google Trends took off at the start of this year) and in my opinion asking the authorities to remove this term from the public lexicon is nothing short of highway robbery.

It’s no secret they didn’t come up with the idea either. Shooting themselves in the foot once again, Twitter’s help pages (archived for posterity) define retweeting as follows (emphasis mine):

What does RT, or retweet mean?
RT is short for retweet, and indicates a re-posting of someone else’s tweet. This isn’t an official Twitter command or feature, but people add RT somewhere in a tweet to indicate that part of their tweet includes something they’re re-posting from another person’s tweet, sometimes with a comment of their own.Check out this great article on re-tweeting, written by a fellow Twitter user, @ruhanirabin.

So there you have it, even Twitter admit the idea isn’t theirs, defining it as a verb (another sure fire way to destroy a trademark) and then referring to a user article for more information. Of course that won’t stop them claiming it as their own now with a view to preventing competitors from delivering it themselves.

To put things in perspective that’s about as reasonable as Google claiming ownership of our ideas because they’re in their index.

Unfortunately though I have a sneaking suspicion that Twitter will get away with it this time unless we stand our ground now. ReTweet.com are in a particularly good position to prevent this from happening (they already claim trademark status over the word):

Retweet.com, the Retweet.com logo and other Mesiab Labs trademarks including service marks, and product and service names are Mesiab Labs trademarks or registered trademarks in the United States and in other countries (the “Mesiab Labs Marks”). All other names and designs may be trademarks of their respective owners. Users may display or use the Retweet.com and Mesiab Labs Marks only in accordance with Mesiab Labs Trademark Use Guidelines.

Here’s hoping they (or one of the many other retweet sites) file an opposition to the trademark when the appropriate time comes.