Potential trouble for Elon Musk as it emerged that Meta Platforms, Microsoft, and hundreds of others, own X trademarks
Elon Musk’s scrapping of Twitter’s iconic blue bird as part of its ‘X’ rebrand, has run into potential legal issues, lawyers have warned.
On Monday Twitter officially began to rebrand to X, which features a black and white X logo after Elon Musk shared an image of the X logo projected on the side of the company’s San Francisco headquarters shortly after midnight.
Branding had not yet changed on the mobile app for many users, and it comes after Musk changed the name of the Twitter business to X Corp in April.
Musk has long stated his ambition to turn Twitter into “X, the everything app” – similar to the Chinese WeChat app, that incorporates different services such as messaging, social media, food orders, and payments etc into a single app.
His rebranding efforts hit a problem this week, when workmen were halted removing the outgoing company name from the San Francisco HQ building on Monday.
Five letters were removed from the office’s large vertical sign, before work was interrupted by the police.
The building now has as the words “er” left in place, after San Francisco police were called according to local media, because Musk did not get a permit for the work, which included a street closure.
However, police later said this was a misunderstanding.
Musk repurchased the X.com domain name from PayPal in 2017 and as of Monday it redirects to Twitter.
Now Reuters has reported that Elon Musk and X Corp have potentially opened themselves up to trademark infringement lawsuits, as Meta Platforms and Microsoft, as well as hundreds of other entities, already have intellectual property rights to the same letter.
“There’s a 100 percent chance that Twitter is going to get sued over this by somebody,” trademark attorney Josh Gerben was quoted as telling Reuters.
He has reportedly counted nearly 900 active US trademark registrations that already cover the letter X in a wide range of industries.
Reuters reported that Microsoft since 2003 has owned an X trademark related to communications about its Xbox video-game system.
Meta Platforms meanwhile, which recently launched its Twitter rival Threads, owns a federal trademark registered in 2019 covering a blue-and-white letter “X” for fields including software and social media.
Meta and Microsoft likely would not sue unless they feel threatened that Twitter’s X encroaches on brand equity they built in the letter, Gerben reportedly said.
Mariana Köpf, trade mark attorney at European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, got in touch with Silicon UK, to discuss the potential impact of the name change in European markets.
“There are almost 300 active trade mark registrations for the letter X at the EUIPO, including those owned by Hyundai, Sony and Microsoft, and there are 400 at the UKIPO,” said Köpf.
“Worryingly for Musk, there are over one hundred variations of the letter X covering goods and services in Classes 9 and 45 (Twitter’s main areas of interest) registered as trade marks at the EUIPO. Based on this high number, it seems likely that the simply stylised X mark used by Musk is infringing someone else’s right,” said Köpf.
“Enforcing trade mark rights for letters of the alphabet can be challenging however,” said Köpf. “This is because the scope of protection for a single letter sign is more limited, which means they tend only to be considered conflicting if they are highly similar visually and relate to identical, or highly similar goods or services.”
The trade mark attorney from Withers & Rogers also touched upon the decision to scrap the Twitter brand going forward.
“There could be significant costs and challenges ahead for the newly branded business,” Köpf explained. “Twitter’s years of investment in building a strong brand identity has effectively been scrapped and the newly branded business will have to start from scratch.”
“This will involve filing numerous trade mark registrations and establishing a common language to describe the app’s functions,” said Köpf. “For example, new words will need to be found to replace ‘tweet’ and ‘retweet’, which are not only protected as trade marks in the EU and the UK, but also deeply embedded in users’ brains. It will be interesting to see how this develops.”
Meanwhile Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta has rolled out some important updates to its Twitter rival Threads, which is said to currently have 118 million users.
When it launched, Threads lacked a key Twitter feature, namely a chronological feed of posts from the people or organisations that a user follows.
However in the update, this chronological feed has now been added, giving Threads users a source of real-time information, thereby making it a more viable destination for up-to-the-minute news and updates.
Meta also added a few other updates including a translation option, and another update that allows users in the Activity tab, to filter notifications by follows, replies, mentions, quoted posts, reposts and interactions from verified accounts.
Meta has also introduced a new follow button to make it easier to follow people back, and more updates are reportedly on the way, including the ability to post from a web browser (Threads is currently only available as a mobile app), direct messaging, improved search and more.