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'Web 2.0' brand ownership disputed

Provokes uproar in blogging community

A media company claiming ownership of the term 'Web 2.0' has relented in its attempt to prevent an Irish organisation from using the term to promote a conference, following adverse reaction by a number of bloggers.

The conflict started last week when CMP Media, a company that puts on a conference series with O'Reilly Media, sent a letter to conference organiser IT@Cork, an organisation that runs informational events for IT professionals in Ireland, ordering the organisation to remove the term Web 2.0 from the title of a conference scheduled for early June.

When a member of IT@Cork's steering committee wrote in his blog about the letter, response there and on other blogs was rapid and widespread. Most commenters agreed that the term Web 2.0 is generic enough that anyone ought to be able to use it, although some people believe that O'Reilly Media has every right to protect a brand that it has nurtured.

Shortly after O'Reilly Media noticed that the tide of blog comments was against it, the company posted a note on its blog apologising for the way it handled the matter and noting that the dispute had been settled. An O'Reilly representative contacted IT@Cork and permitted the group to use the term Web 2.0 for the upcoming conference, said Tom Raftery, an IT consultant, blogger and member of the IT@Cork steering committee.

O'Reilly Media executives are widely credited with coining the term Web 2.0, while CMP has applied to trademark the term in the US and the EU (European Union) for use in conference titles.

While the two companies' dispute with IT@Cork isn't entirely resolved, the process that led a large media company to abandon its threats reflects the power that the web puts into the hands of bloggers and their audience.

"If this had happened three or four years ago, we would have just rolled over," Raftery said. "But because of the power of blogs, we were able to put up this post on my blog and within 24 hours have this large multinational media corporation back down."

Raftery scoffed at the idea of the companies having control of the term. "They have no authority to say we can use it or can't, and that we should be grateful for their benevolence," he said. That's because CMP doesn't yet have a trademark on the term – and, in Europe at least, it may never, Raftery said.

CMP filed its trademark application in the US in 2003 and in Europe in late March. Because the term Web 2.0 has become so widely used, Raftery doubts the EU will grant the trademark.

A three-month comment period on the EU application is still open and IT@Cork hopes that at least one organisation will object to the application for an EU trademark.

"We're a nonprofit organisation and we don't have the resources to fight this battle, but I'm sure there are others interested in it," Raftery said.

The US application has already passed the final review before registration, and will register in due course, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office.


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