Have you heard the one about the book publishing company with a reputation built upon the back of the Open Source movement, which set its lawyers on a rival for using the term Web 2.0? Apparently O’Reilly has applied for a ‘service mark’ to cover Web 2.0 when applied to business and educational conferences within various fields of computers and IT use. Oh, and the person defending both the service mark application and the cease-and-desist letter sent to reinforce it, is called Winge.

But this is no joke, it’s actually deadly serious. The letter sent to Irish non-profit organization IT@Cork, a conference organizer who dared to use Web 2.0 within the name of one of their forthcoming conferences, was actually sent by an attorney acting for CMP Media (who co-produce a Web 2.0 conference with O’Reilly, who gave their agreement to send it). The argument being that just as they could not run a LinuxWorld conference, so nobody should be allowed to use the term ‘web 2.0’ in the conferencing realm at least. The very idea that the man who helped popularize the term should now be, effectively, claiming ownership of it is laughable. Or at least it would be if it weren’t so pathetic. Especially considering, according to an IT@Cork spokesperson, Tim O’Reilly was invited to speak at the conference and turned it down with regret due to a busy schedule. This being way back in February, but the cease-and-desist letter wasn’t sent until 2 weeks before the conference was due to run. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking that this was a deliberate, corporate strong arm tactic designed to shut down a competitor at any cost. So much for the spirit of open source and community huh? Well maybe not, although the online public outrage at the move may have had something to do with it as well, because the lawyers have now said that IT@Cork can use the name this year, but not in future. Which is very big of them, especially as they’ve only applied for the service mark and not actually been awarded it yet. Quite apart from anything else, one might be forgiven for suggesting that a generic phrase such as Web 2.0 Conference, as opposed to Web 2.0 World for example, wouldn’t stand a hope in hell of getting such commercial protection. But then IANAL, so what do I know?

Well I know snake oil when I see it, so let me ask you this: when you hear the words ‘web 2.0’ what is the first thing that springs to your mind? Is it a) Tim O’Reilly, b) CMP Media or c) the future of web services?

Personally, it’s none of the above for me. Instead the phrase ‘an overhyped excuse for a pre-bubble dotcom funding rampage’ refuses to leave my consciousness. Still, I guess the whole thing will soon become a thing of the past as Web 2.1 Beta will be just around the corner.

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And so another blog joins the fray of screaming bloody murder at O'Reilly when there's nothing to scream about.

Tim O'Reilly (whom I respect though we don't always see eye to eye on things) was on vacation when this thing blew up and was as surprise and angry about it as everyone else when he found out.
His company is NOT the one who registered the Web 2.0 servicemark back in 2003, even though they could have.

And O'Reilly tried what it could to accommodate the organisers despite the deluge of slander (including reportedly death threats) spewed out over them by those organisers and their "supporters" due to deliberately false presentation of facts by those organisers in their own blogs.

And oh, I don't consider Web 2.0 to be more than a O'Reilly/CMP conference about emerging internet technologies and a lot of overhyped hot air by people trying to make mundane things like interactive websites and Javascript sound like something completely new that noone else ever thought about.

There's plenty to scream about in this case, and O'Reilly (like it or not) is right there in the midst of it.

I assume you were with Tim O'Reilly at the poolside when he found out about this then, able to gauge that surprise and anger? And if he were, indeed, so shocked by the terrible things being done with the full backing of his company why no immediate retraction online, why no 'we were wrong guvnor' statement, why nothing other than IT@Cork getting a stay of execution for 'this year’s conference' only? I agree with the, apparent, majority of folk who have been commenting on this: that Web 2.0 is too generic a term to trademark in this way, no matter who coined it in the first place. What's more, the whole cease and desist approach is at odds with the O'Reilly corporate image - no wonder people are getting hot under the collar. It's a good story.

For the record, I've not seen any death threats from IT@Cork, although it wouldn't surprise me if the usual immature suspects finding a cause to latch on to have. But that's hardly the fault of IT@Cork. I'd be interested to know how you know that they 'deliberately misrepresented the facts' and what that misrepresentation was though.

As for Tim O'Reilly being a decent chap and being on holiday etc, so what? The cease and desist letter, as pointed out in my piece, was sent by CMP Media with the full knowledge, backing and support of O'Reilly.

That's O'Reilly the company, which one assumes doesn't shut when Tim is off topping up his tan.

As for your final 'oh' I happen to agree with you about Web 2.0 - the clue being in the last para where I mention ‘an overhyped excuse for a pre-bubble dotcom funding rampage’ :-)

As soon as Tim came back (he was out of cellphone reach with no internet access for several days) he wrote a blog entry and contacted the parties involved...

The letter was sent by CMP without initial knowledge of O'Reilly, though O'Reilly legal staff (without consulting Tim who could not be reached) did indeed agree with CMP.

Finally, I must agree with CMP in this, at least in principle. They have a legal obligation to protect their service marks, even when not yet granted.
Therefore they MUST send a C&D letter of some sort whenever a breach is detected, if they don't they loose the right to the mark.

IT@Cork were in breach of an existing service mark, whether knowingly or not.
They deliberately misinterpreted the facts by claiming that O'Reilly sent the letter instead of CMP, then effectively calling for everyone to boycot O'Reilly.
That's not what you do if you want a dialogue, to resolve an issue without letting it blow up. Therefore I have to conclude that IT@Cork never had any intent to resolve the issue at all, and only wanted to harm O'Reilly.

Without the initial knowledge of Tim O'Reilly is not the same as without the knowledge of O'Reilly the company though, which certainly did agree with CMP. However, this is something of a diversion methinks. The core issue is whether something as generic (and like it or not, with merit or not, it is) as Web 2.0 should be given service mark protection at all.

I doubt that we'll agree on this, it is a matter of opinion after all :-)

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