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“Web 2.0”: O’Reilly’s service mark affair and Web 2.0 Inc (yes there is a company of that name) May 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, law, Overseas.
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The controversy (covered across the blogosphere, Tom Raferty, Shel Israel, Jeff Clavier, Boing Boing, Rick Segal, John Battelle (who I thought was treading a bit too carefully in his post but is trying to communicate a bit more clearly in the comments – actually, Philipp Lenssen's comments make a point I wholeheartedly agree with), the list goes on….) about O'Reilly's (or more accurately, CMP Media's) application of the use of Web 2.0 as a service mark.

My opinion that usually it is important to protect trademarks so they aren't abused and also aren't used by profiteering freeloaders. Better to have a responsible person (usually the person who came up with the mark in the first place) own the rights, assuming that person will be sensible about enforcement.

The area I am slightly ambivalent about is the conflict between the filing for the trademark/servicemark and promotion of the term "Web2.0" from what is undoubtedly a very authoritative position in the IT industry. A cynic would say that O'Reilly (the organisation not the person) has been using its position to evangelise the "Web2.0" meme, and given the nature of this meme it was foreseeable that if the meme stuck it would be the sort of thing around which conferences would be held. This suspicion of planned commercialism may be what is upsetting some quarters.

Whilst I can understand the "Tim is on holiday" excuse, I think Tim's absence has exposed a problem within the O'Reilly organisation. Assuming that going after non-profits like IT@Cork was not part of the original intention behind filing for the servicemarks in the first place and that Tim would not agree with the strategy, the affair has exposed that groups within the organisation aren't with the program. From a corporate governance perspective, it is far from ideal.

I don't think IT@Cork's usage is an abuse or an attempt at profiteering. [added 5/31 : Asking them to post an attribution would have sufficed, according to Tim's account, so the question is why they were so trigger happy with the C&D. A communications breakdown is the likely cause (though Tim carefully points out CMP owns the rights and his company is only a partner).] 

The incident made me recall that a Japanese company has decided to call itself Web2.0 Inc.

Web2.0 Inc was set up in November 2005 by a consortium of 3 publicly listed companies, Digital Garage (a "web solution provider and business incubator", operators of Technorati Japan), Pia (Japan's largest ticket vendor/publisher), and Kakaku.com (Japan's leading price comparison site).

It apparently offers blog marketing data services, and will also be launching a new portal site in "Spring 2006". When does spring officially end? At the end of May? The summer solstice? Will the portal appear as announced?

Was this corporate naming an inspired piece of PR (they can rename when/if they feel like it) or will it be seen as a cynical attempt to ride on the coattails of a trend? What will happen when "Web2.0" goes stale as a marketing buzzword (some would claim it is already well on its way to becoming stale…) With regards to the Web2.0 servicemark, here in Japan a company called MediaLive Japan (which has been organising events such as Networld+Interop Tokyo, and COMDEX/Japan) has filed a similar application in relation to the term's usage in connection with conferences, but not only that, the application also covers areas like market intelligence services and advertising. MLJ is now a subsidiary of CMP Japan (as of January 2006). (additional information here)

Personally, I think the name is in bad taste, against the whole spirit of Web 2.0, social web, whatever.

Some more commentary on the blogosphere: Michael Arrington and Thomas Hawk (1,2)also cover the issue. This is really going to be a major headache for Tim O'Reilly when he gets back from vacation….

[Links to external sources added and title changed 5/28]

Update 5/31. Tim puts forward his side of the story. I am personally not fully convinced. He seems to characterise "the blogosphere" as a "mob", and conveniently ignores some points I think he would should have addressed. The fact that he and his organisation were evangelising the "Web2.0" meme, and the non-disclosure of potential commercial conflict of interest thereof appears to so NOT what O'Reilly and company have been promoting the meme to be about – although looking back at the original Web2.0 meme map, he has "The right to remix: some rights reserved" (my emphasis). Some rights reserved, that's irony for you. 

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