Tim O’Reilly handles it well — almost

I hope Tim O’Reilly’s houseboating trip on Lake Powell was relaxing, because he came back to a boatload of stress as a result of his company’s association with a “cease and desist” letter that CMP Media sent to a (non-profit) IT group in Ireland for using the term Web 2.0 in relation to a conference. There’s more on the history of it all here if you’re interested. Tim has now posted a long dissertation on what happened and what he thinks of both the Web 2.0 trademark (which wasn’t his idea) and the blogosphere’s “pile-on” response.

I will say this — after reading it, Tim strikes me as just the kind of stand-up guy and all-around straight-shooter that my friend Paul Kedrosky described him as in a discussion we had about the whole mess. And he is right that the whole affair turned into an unpleasant kind of schoolyard pile-on that had a nasty tone to it, which is unfortunate. That said, however, I’m pretty sure Paul still thinks that applying for the trademark was a wrong-headed thing to do, and I do too — and not just because I helped organize the mesh Web 2.0 conference earlier this month in Toronto.

One of my fellow organizers, Stuart MacDonald, firmly believes that O’Reilly was right to try and enforce its trademark (although it hasn’t been approved yet), but I tend to agree with Rob Hyndman that Web 2.0 is not something that is really trademarkable. As Marty Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog notes in a short post on the whole controversy, “If you coin and promulgate a term, you can sell it as a buzzword or you can sell it as a brand, but under trademark law, it’s virtually impossible to do both.”

O’Reilly has done an amazing job of spreading the gospel — so to speak — of Web 2.0, and they are justifiably proud of that. But trademarking it at this point is a dumb thing to do, and towards the end of his post it seems like Tim is coming around to that way of thinking too. I encourage him, as Chris Messina and others have, to offer Web 2.0 up as a Community Mark and turn this sh*tstorm of negative publicity into something positive. I think James Robertson has a good perspective on the whole thing here, and Don Park makes a very good point on his blog.

8 thoughts on “Tim O’Reilly handles it well — almost

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  6. I agree Mathew. I noticed that you, Scoble, and I caught the part about how nasty the blogosphere got during this whole debacle.

    I don’t think I can comment on the trademark issues … for conferences … yes, Web 2.0 is now a meme and they have to live with that. I like the suggestion for creating something like a Creative Commons license for the mark … again as far a conferences go. For the rest of us it’s a concept … maybe this will force another term or meme to bubble to the surface.

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