No brand protection – Twitters greatest challenge?

A few months back Wired magazine reported that Twitter acquired its main graphic (the bird on the curly branch) from stock photography website  The licence to use the graphic was apparently acquired for a measly sum of $6.  The trouble has been that the licence granted by istockphoto isn’t exclusive, and therefore others have been able to purchase and use the same graphic for their own purposes.  That early branding decision means that Twitter may have missed the boat in protecting one of its key graphical elements (but perhaps it’s now distinctive of Twitter?).

Twitter also recently applied for “Tweet” as a trademark in the US and has started taking issue with developers using the word “tweet” in applications (as reported here by Techcrunch).  After initial reports, Twitter founder Biz Stone tried to calm twitter developers (responsible for great applications such as TweetDeck) by explaining that Twitter has “no intention of ‘going after’ the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter”.

There is a problem with that.  It’s a fine line between encouraging the popularity of your brand on one hand, and allowing it to become gernericised, and therefore losing control over the mark altogether, on the other.  It’s a common problem (see this great list of trademarks which have become genericised) and the lengths that companies go to try and wrestle back control over key marks once started down that path can appear, well, a little desperate (see this page from Adobe about correct use of the term “photoshop” – about half way down the page).

Given that Twitter’s core value comes from grouping many users under the twitter website, the bird logo and “tweet”ing to each other, protection of those branding elements should be a higher priority.

From here it’s an interesting road for Twitter.  Do they let the brand go completely out the door or do they pull back and work from first principles to build a modern brand and IP strategy?

What would you do?

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