Today on Ken Molay's blog he wrote a good post entitled "Legal Status of 'Webinar'" which was about a podcast last November that addressed the trademark legalities around the attempt, ostensibly by InterCall, to claim as a trademark the word "webinar" several years ago. That attempt apparently languished, but, more recently, and more alarmingly, a recent application in August of 2006 was filed by Learn.com, Inc., to trademark this common term.
We oppose any attempt by any company to trademark the word "webinar" and Flordia-based Learn.com is attempting to do just that with their August 2006 application to the US Patent and Trademark Office. See the listing for this by searching for trademarks here. Their application states "The mark consists of standard characters, without claim to any particular font, style, size, or color." In other words, it's not a unique word mark Learn.com is seeking to trademark, it's the word in standard characters. This, from a company that ubiquitously puts the registered trademark "R" after "Learn.com" everywhere on its site.
Webinar marketers, webinar sponsors, webinar speakers, webinar vendors, webinar consultants and webinar attendees should oppose any attempt to trademark this well known, frequently used, and common term. Were it 1994 we'd say "go ahead and trademark that weird term" but it's 2006 and "webinars" have gained traction in the business lexicon of online events. Even we're launching a new blog called WebinarWire.com, a domain we registered in 2003.
We called Learn.com's corporate lawyer and he said he didn't know the status of the application. The Patent and Trademark office's website is a bit more
forthcoming informative. Click here and find the "webinar" application listing and then click on the "Tarr status" button and, even better, click the "TDR" button and then go to "Offc Action Outgoing" and you'll read an interesting letter from the PTO to Learn.com.
We also contacted the attorney listed as assigned to this trademark application at the PTO and he emailed us back saying: "There is a prior registration for "webinar" that I cited against the applicant in this case. You can see it on our website. But, for oppositions, look at the TTAB materials online. You can oppose it if it ever makes it to the publication phase. For now, either monitor it on your own or hire a TM Law Firm to do it for you." ...Good advice - for all stakeholders in the webinar market.
The irony - which reveals either dimwitted marketing or bad manners on Learn.com's part in the context of their filing - is that if the plain word "webinar" was ever trademarked (properly, before it became commonly used) and only able to be used by one company, it would be utterly useless and of no marketing value. It has taken some time for the entire industry in promoting webinars to call them that, because the term is somewhat awkward, but it has caught on because of the entire industry. "Web seminars" and "web events" were more frequently used and it's only in the last three years that "webinar" has gained traction in the parlance of business.
We prove our point in this trend. about what Google site visitors are searching, relatively, among the keywords "web seminar," "web event" and "webinar." ...Clearly, "webinar" has gained traction and common use as a term in the marketplace.
Stayed tuned to this, and monitor it. Because while no one may believe in their right mind that any company could file a trademark for "webinar" in 2006, remember that this is the same office that has granted obvious-use patents such as "one-click" purchasing for online purchases.
January 9, 2007