Elon Musk’s decision to rebrand Twitter as X could be fraught with difficulty as competitors including Microsoft and Meta already own trademarks for the same letter.
The renaming exercise could set the stage for a legal dispute between tech’s biggest players, but does anyone want to make trouble for Musk’s social media makeover?
Our headquarters tonight pic.twitter.com/GO6yY8R7fO
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 24, 2023
X marks the micro-blogging spot
On Sunday, July 23, Elon Musk announced that Twitter would change its name to X. But trademarks owned by rival tech giants suggest he may not have thought the move through.
Soon after the development, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta had already registered ‘X’ in relation to social media. For that reason, Musk’s surprise rebranding exercise may step on the Meta chief’s toes.
The question is whether the two X brands are different enough to avoid legal action. The two are visually, if not phonetically, distinct.
Meta’s X features two arrowheads pointing towards each other; one white, one pale blue, on a dark blue background. Twitter’s X is white on black, with a white, solid, forward-leaning diagonal line overlaid by a thicker, backward-leaning line, outlined in white with a black center.
There is little love lost between Zuckerberg and Musk, and while the two have yet to come to blows (despite both being keen to throw a punch in the other’s direction) the real fight may lie in court.
Even if Meta and Zuckerberg do not file papers, several alternative candidates could cause trouble for Musk.
Bye bye birdie
Twitter is ditching the iconic bird logo it has used since 2012. Musk first teased the change by tweeting, “And soon we shall bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds.”
This caught the Twitter community completely off-guard, with some suggesting that the bird app may change to another animal. Musk went on to clarify that the brand would instead become the letter X, marking the spot of his everything-app dream.
The switch brings Twitter into line with other Musk-owned brands such as SpaceX, but not everyone thinks the rename is the work of a master business strategist.
Trademark attorney Josh Gerben was among the experts predicting trouble for Musk.
“There’s a 100% chance that Twitter is going to get sued over this by somebody,” Gerben told Reuters on Tuesday, July 25.
Given the litigious nature of U.S. business, Gerben’s words hold water. According to Gerben’s count, there are a total of 900 active U.S. trademark registrations that cover the numeral.
Microsoft is another tech giant that holds an X trademark, in its case connected to its Xbox gaming platform.
But Gerben believes that the legal challenge will probably come from elsewhere. The attorney believes that the two tech giants would be unlikely to sue unless Twitter’s X somehow impinged on their existing brand equity.
The cosmetic differences between the three brands would suggest that the legal threat will come from elsewhere.
Guarding the trademark treasure
The decision to rebrand Twitter may yet prove costly, according to Douglas Masters, an attorney specializing in trademark law.
As Masters sees it, any trademark protection Musk’s X may hold will be very slight.
“Given the difficulty in protecting a single letter, especially one as popular commercially as ‘X’, Twitter’s protection is likely to be confined to very similar graphics to their X logo,” Masters told Reuters. “The logo does not have much distinctive about it, so the protection will be very narrow.”