O’Reilly Admits Mishandling Web 2.0 Issue

    May 26, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

A post by O’Reilly Media regarding their cease and desist demand letter issued over the use of “Web 2.0” in a conference name could have been handled better.

There is a saying that one cannot unring a bell. The missive dispatched by CMP Media on O’Reilly’s behalf appears to have been just one part of what some old ex-military buddies of mine would call Charlie Foxtrot in polite company.

The quick summary: CMP Media sent a cease and desist letter to the organizers of an Irish event titled the “Web 2.0 half-day conference,” to be held by a non-profit group called IT@Cork. A day after the news of O’Reilly/CMP’s demand that IT@Cork refrain from using Web 2.0 in the conference title hit the web (and the web hit back with a lot of blog posts and comments), O’Reilly responded with a post from its VP of corporate communications, Sara Winge.

From the post: In retrospect, we wish we’d contacted the IT@Cork folks personally and talked over the issue before sending legal correspondence. In fact, it turns out that they asked Tim to speak at the conference, though our Web 2.0 Conference team didn’t know that. We’ve sent a followup letter to Donagh Kiernan, agreeing that IT@Cork can use the Web 2.0 name this year. While we stand by the principle that we need to protect our “Web 2.0” mark from unauthorized use in the context of conferences, we apologize for the way we initially handled the issue with IT@Cork.

As a great writer once put it, several things happened at once; these contributed to the self-administered PR black eye O’Reilly the company and the person sports now:

– Tim O’Reilly took what has been described as a “rare” vacation before CMP sent out the demand letter, so he may not have even known it was going to happen

– IT@Cork had invited him in February to speak at the conference, an invitation which he declined, but raised no concern about the conference name at that time

– O’Reilly’s knowledge of the conference well in advance of its scheduled timeframe was not conveyed to CMP Media’s lawyers

– CMP’s follow-up to IT@Cork came in the form of a new letter that would permit IT@Cork to hold their event with the Web 2.0 name this year, provided they agree in writing never to use the Web 2.0 name again for a live event

Tom Raftery, the blogger who documented the start of the kerfuffle by posting CMP/O’Reilly’s first letter, commented on the second letter on his site:

Is it just me or are they still not getting it? They are asking us to sign a document saying we won’t hold any future events with the term Web 2.0 in the title. If we run an event on Microsoft Windows, would Microsoft would send us a cease and desist letter for using their trademark in the title? Of course not, how is this any different?

And why should we sign a document tying ourselves to that?

It’s difficult to envision a scenario where Microsoft would greet the organizers of a “Windows Half-Day Conference” with legal threats. It should also be noted that the Web 2.0 service mark is under a pending application for registration, which has not yet been granted in the US or the EU.

The first post on the O’Reilly Radar website about the IT@Cork brouhaha also noted that CMP media had contacted another organization about a Web 2.0 Conference they have planned for September. That organization happens to be The Potomac Officers Club, a non-profit group like IT@Cork.

Unlike IT@Cork, the Potomac Officer Club consists of numerous C-level executives from the Washington, DC area. People like Jack Welch and Charles Schwab stop by to give chats to the Club’s members.

A couple of law firms sponsor the Club, and the membership certainly know a few attorneys. Their response to the CMP cease and desist will be interesting to see. Organizations that hold their Web 2.0 conferences at a Ritz-Carlton aren’t likely to be cowed by a pending application for registration of an arguably generally descriptive service mark.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.