Is Web 2.0 Ownable?

It seems that lawyers and marketing drones can make even the greatest of companies pull a boneheaded move. In this case, after coining the term Web 2.0, some jokers over at O’Reilly have decided that they should own the service mark to the term - but only “for conferences.”

To protect the brand we’ve established with our two Web 2.0 Conferences, we’re taking steps to register “Web 2.0” as our service mark, for conferences. It’s a pretty standard business practice. Just as O’Reilly couldn’t decide to launch a LinuxWorld conference, other event producers can’t use “Web 2.0 Conference,” the name of our event.

Of course, O’Reilly has every right to protect a brand they have created. There is an important, salient distinction between “Web 2.0 Conference” and the “LinuxWorld” expo, hinging on whether or not Web 2.0 is a noun or marketing buzz-speak. I am sure there will be no surprise here when I say that I - and probably most of the other geeks out there - believe strongly that the term is a distinct noun, referring to the serendipitous intersection of a collection of technologies that together promote a more advanced web paradigm than the original World Wide Web. So while the O’Reilly gang may have created the term, and so feel justified in claiming rights to the “Web 2.0 Conference,” the banal commodity usage of the term has voided them of any ownership their marketing team might claim.

In short, they picked a terrible name to protect for their conference.

Why do you think “LinuxWorld” is “LinuxWorld?” The name is memorable, easy to read and associate with their target, and semantically distinct from Linux as an operating system, and World as … well, the world. The conference name “LinuxWorld” is easily protected, but the conference name “Linux Conference” would not be. O’Reilly just needs to come up with a catchier namesake for their conference.

They shouldn’t worry because people will still attend. In droves. The technological good will meticulously built up by O’Reilly over the last dozen years, and their well-deserved reputation for being smart people producing good work, ensures that the conference (whatever they call it) will be a wild success. The only way that won’t happen is if they continue to pursue a legal ownership to the term.

After all, their core market is geeks. Nothing pisses off geeks more than the reek of lawyers and marketing: “It’s a pretty standard business practice.”