In defense of Tim O’Reilly, John Battelle, and the Web 2.0 service mark.

Let me start off by saying that, as most folks already know, Tim and John and I are not BFF–we’ve had our own little run ins over the years. Second, sending lawyers to attack a non-profit is just straight-up dumb. Especially when you’ve made tens of millions of dollars being the proponent of the open source and Web 2.0 memes like Tim has.

However, Tim clearly has some rights to the Web 2.0 mark in the *title* of a conference name. Battelle points this out, and that it makes business sense to defend your brand.

Regardless of who made up the Web 2.0 term (Tim didn’t invent–I heard people say Web 2.0 back in 98.. it was one of the terms that was just out there for a long time), it’s pretty well established that Tim made the Web 2.0 term *stick* and he certainly was the first to do an event based on the Web 2.0 name.

If someone comes along and does a “Web 2.0” event that is dilutive of the brand that Tim and John have built (i.e. confusing to users) that’s is just not fair. Now, I’m not saying that in *this* case folks wouldn’t know the difference, but we all know that our legal systems is designed so that you have defend yourself consistently if you want protection. Every time you let something slide the evil folks can use that as ammunition for you to lose your rights. Our trademark system isn’t perfect–we all know that. Of course, a call to the IT@Cork folks would have solved the problem I think (and so does JBAT).

Now, if someone uses Web 2.0 in the tag line, or is really, really clear that it’s not an O’Reilly event with the naming of the event, then I think that’s fine. For example, if someone does the Web 2.0 Summit or The Web 2.0 Expo I think that’s OK. However, if they just do a “Web 2.0” conference that’s not cool because some folks might actually think it is Tim or John’s event.

When I was running Silicon Alley Reporter we had a similar issue. We had the double edge sword of having a buzzword in our brand name: Silicon Alley. Every time Silicon Alley was mentioned in the news or in a magazine got a bump in brand recognition. However, other folks would make Silicon Alley branded magazines and take a little of our thunder. We had conferences in addition to our magazine that used the format Silicon Alley YEARNAME (i.e. Silicon Alley 97, 98, 99, 2000, etc), and we had to defend those because some folks would come along and say “we’re doing a ‘Silicon Alley’ conference too!” Our position was just don’t call it Silicon Alley YEARNAME. Call it the Silicon Alley SOMETHING. People did, everyone got on with their life.

Tim *doesn’t* seem to want it both ways. He understands he doesn’t own the name. He just had some bonehead lawyer do what bonehead lawyers do–write bonehead letters. I wish lawyers would start thinking like humans, and I’m sure Tim would too. It’s Tim’s job to set the tone with his legal folks, and he’s dropped the ball on this one. I’m sure he’s fixed it and it won’t happen again.

We all know Tim’s a brilliant guy (and so is John), and they put on a good show–I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt here.

At the end of the day, if people want to leave this Web 2.0 meme behind they should just start a Web 3.0 Conference… no one’s trademarked that already right

Update: Right after I hit publish on this post I went to clear out my RSS reader and noticed that Dave had come to similar conclusions and made the good point that people are forgetting that this is a business. One thing I thought was interesting: both Dave and I waited three or four days to comment on this. I think the longer you’ve blogged the more time you wait before commenting on something. The blogosphere is becoming more and more wild as the months and years progress. People are guilty-first, and everyone loves to pile-on…. yet you rarely see folks wait a couple of days to post about something. The take away for me is that waiting to hit the publish button is the new virtue.

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