Elon Musk might have an X trademark headache, as Microsoft might own the rights.
As the sun set on the past week, news broke that the billionaire who’s long held a fascination for a website named X.com – none other than the owner of Twitter – made a shock announcement. After shelling out a staggering $44 billion for the social networking platform, making sweeping personnel changes, and rolling out disruptive modifications to the platform’s infrastructure, all while his employees grappled with less than ideal working conditions, he unveiled a dramatic rebranding: Twitter was now to be known simply as “X.”
Who has the X trademark?
Adding to the mounting chaos surrounding this apparently impulsive decision, it emerges that Microsoft, a tech titan from Silicon Valley, already holds the trademark for the letter “X.” This could potentially propel Musk into the heart of a significant legal tussle in the near or distant future.
With Elon Musk’s billion-dollar move to christen Twitter as “X,” legal complexities abound, given that corporate giants like Meta and Microsoft have already claimed intellectual property rights over this particular alphabet. The ubiquity and prominence of “X” in trademark discussions make it a likely contender for legal conflicts, indicating that the company previously known as Twitter may well find itself grappling with the challenge of defending its new identity.
In a statement reported by Reuters, trademark attorney Josh Gerben declared, “There’s a 100% chance that Twitter is going to get sued over this by somebody.” According to Gerben, approximately 900 active U.S. trademark registrations are already in place encompassing the letter X, spanning a multitude of industries.
Trademark proprietors, the guardians of brand names, logos, and slogans that signal the origins of goods, can raise infringement concerns if any new branding might lead to consumer confusion. The available remedies cover a wide spectrum, from financial compensation to outright prohibition of usage.
An interesting point to note is that Microsoft has, since 2003, held an X trademark in relation to its Xbox gaming system’s communication. In addition, Meta Platforms – with its Threads platform emerging as a fresh competitor to Twitter – possesses a federal trademark registered in 2019. This protects a blue-and-white letter “X” in areas including software and social media. However, Gerben speculates that it’s unlikely that Meta or Microsoft would file a lawsuit unless they perceive the new X trademark as infringing upon the brand value they’ve painstakingly built around the letter.
Does Microsoft own X trademark?
“Microsoft owns a trademark for X,” tweeted Andres Guadamuz, an intellectual property law professor at the University of Sussex, shedding light on the potential complexity Musk’s venture could encounter. Guadamuz further voiced his concern over Musk’s bold move, hinting that the rebranding could result in drawn-out legal battles and potentially leave the company brandless. “So Musk has destroyed a loved and strong brand, for potential years of litigation, and potentially no brand.”
And to add to the messy situation, there are already plenty of X companies and apps, here's just one. https://t.co/MHDaaXtuaR
— Andres Guadamuz (@technollama) July 24, 2023
Drawing parallels, Meta previously navigated similar intellectual property hurdles when it transitioned from its original name, Facebook. The tech giant found itself entangled in trademark lawsuits filed by investment company Metacapital and virtual reality firm MetaX, and also settled another dispute concerning its novel infinity-symbol logo. Even if Musk successfully navigates the name change, there remains the possibility of others staking a claim over the ‘X.’
Douglas Masters, a trademark attorney at Loeb & Loeb, was quoted in Reuters’ report, suggesting the intricacy of protecting a solitary letter, especially a commercially popular one like ‘X.’
“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,” he stated. “The logo does not have much distinctive about it, so the protection will be very narrow.”
It is also intriguing to observe the not-so-friendly dynamics between Microsoft and Musk. Microsoft, founded by fellow billionaire and Musk’s meme-war adversary, Bill Gates, has poured a colossal amount of money into OpenAI. This AI venture, led by Sam Altman, was co-founded by Musk in 2015, only for him to depart in 2018 under what have been whispered to be rather uncomfortable circumstances.
However, Musk’s claim to “X.com” does appear to be valid. He reported a few years back that he bought the domain from PayPal, for what he described as a nostalgic motive.
Featured image credit: Turag Photography/Unsplash