2.0 sides to every story

29 May 2006

A Cork network of IT professionals has become embroiled in a dispute with the computer book empire O’Reilly Media Inc over the use of the term Web 2.0 in the title of a conference being held next month. O’Reilly Media is currently seeking to obtain a service mark for the term ‘Web 2.0’.

In recent weeks IT@Cork, which is in the process of organising a Microsoft-sponsored event on Web 2.0 taking place on 8 June, received a cease and desist letter from lawyers representing O’Reilly and CMP Media, instructing IT@Cork to stop utilising the term Web 2.0.

O’Reilly and CMP Media claim to have coined the phrase Web 2.0 while brainstorming for a conference in 2003.

The term Web 2.0 is commonly used in IT circles to describe the second generation of services available on the worldwide web enabling people to collaborate and share information. Concepts and technologies seen as contributing to Web 2.0 includes weblogs, wikis, podcasts and RSS feeds. It is broadly seen as a move away from static websites towards a more dynamic web experience. Examples of Web 2.0 include Google Maps and Flickr.

In recent weeks Enterprise Ireland hosted a conference on Web 2.0 for the Irish software community.

In a letter to IT@Cork, CMP lawyers wrote: “CMP has a pending application for registration of Web 2.0 as a service mark, for arranging and conducting live events, namely trade shows, expositions, business conferences and educational conferences in various fields of computers and information technology.”

It is understood that CMP and O’Reilly Media have also contacted another organisation in Washington DC holding a Web 2.0 conference.

CMP demanded IT@Cork provide written assurance that they cease usage of Web 2.0 in their conference title and “refrain from utilising any CMP marks in the future”.

It has since transpired that CMP has allowed IT@Cork to use the term Web 2.0 in their conference title but the subject has sparked a storm of debate amongst the blogging community, otherwise known as the blogosphere.

Writing on the O’Reilly Radar blog site, Sarah Winge, vice-president of corporate communications at O’Reilly Media, said: “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 follow-up 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 unauthorised use in the context of conferences, we apologise for the way we initially handled the issue with IT@Cork.”

According to Tom Raftery, one of the organisers behind the conference in Cork and who also invited Tim O’Reilly to speak at the event, it is “highly unlikely” that IT@Cork will sign a letter agreeing to refrain from using the term Web 2.0 in the future.

Raftery confessed to being astonished at the request from CMP and O’Reilly Media. “Trying to trademark a term like Web 2.0 is like trying to trademark the word ‘blog’. O’Reilly and CMP lodged an application for a service mark for Web 2.0 in 2003 with the US Patents and Trademarks Office and I believe they lodged an application with the EU Patents Office in March of this year.

“I think it is completely ridiculous. If we held an event titled ‘Microsoft Windows is crap’ do you think we’d get a cease-and-desist letter from Microsoft? It makes no sense whatsoever.

“Basically they are saying we can use Web 2.0 this once but want us to sign a document saying we won’t use that term in the future. Right now we haven’t decided anything but it is highly unlikely.

“Web 2.0 is supposed to be about empowering people to use technology more freely. It is about being open, not proprietary. This situation is the opposite to that,” Raftery said.

By John Kennedy