Elon Musk’s “X” branding already trademarked by Mark Zuckerberg. A lesson in brand protection strategy.

4th August 2023

As we have all recently heard, Elon Musk has rebranded Twitter to “X”.

Putting aside the questionable decision to eradicate an iconic name and logo, Mr Musk stated that the name change is part of his plan to conform all his services and products to his brand “X”.

Mr Musk first used his “X” brand for his X.com domain in 1999 when he founded his financial services company which later went on to become the well-known household brand, PayPal.

It is unclear if Mr Musk has in fact registered the trademark for “X” or if he had, whether he had the foresight to include the necessary classes of goods and services that would cover activities related to Twitter. If not, he may face difficulty.

It is reported that there are approximately 900 active US trademarks covering the letter X, including Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta. Not only will Mr Musk face a lack of trademark protection but he may also face legal claims from the companies for trademark infringement.

The battle will of course take place in the US. However, if it was held in the UK, there are various items to consider if you or your business are in a similar situation:

  1. What is already registered?  Check if the name or logo is already registered as a trademark before you proceed with the costly process of developing and launching your new brand name or logo.
    If Mr Musk had carried out a quick search beforehand, he would have realised there were already other “X” trademarks and therefore either kept the current name/logo or used another distinctive mark. 
  2. Apply for trademark protection for your brand without delay, preferably before launch, for as many foreseeable categories as possible.
    In this case, Mr Musk should have registered his brand “X” as a trademark in 1999 when it was first in use and took steps to update it periodically for new foreseeable services and products. 
  3. Monitor and act. Keep a watch on other applications for trademarks that are similar or the same as yours and ensure you act upon them as soon as possible.
    If Mr Musk had registered his name “X” back in 1999 and had kept an eye on other applications, he could have prevented Meta and Microsoft from registering their “X” trademarks. 
  4. Co-exist. If you have not registered your trademark, you could reach out to the other trademark owners and see if there is a way to co-exist. Although they may have a trademark for the same/similar word or logo it may be for a different service, product, sector or geographical location, where there may be little overlap.
    We have successfully assisted clients in these approaches and subsequent negotiations. 
  5. Revoke. Finally, if you are unable to resolve matters, you could apply to revoke the other trademark on grounds of non-use.
    In this case, although Meta has registered the letter “X” for social networking services, if Meta has not used the “X” trademark for five years since it was registered, it is possible to apply to revoke the entire registration or for some of the goods or services for which the trademark was registered. Again, we have successfully advised and assisted clients in such actions.

We have worked with and advised clients on all aspects of the above issues. If you have any questions concerning any of the above or any intellectual property issues, please do not hesitate to contact Annie Hui-Gillen of our dispute resolution team.

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