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X marks the spot for Musk’s rebrand strategy, but could it backfire?

28 July 2023

Elon Musk’s decision to rename Twitter as ‘X’ and implement the changes almost immediately, has attracted widespread public attention. But could the speedy rebrand have unwelcome repercussions?

The rebranding is thought to be part of a strategic plan by Elon Musk to reinvent Twitter, which he acquired in October 2022 as a multi-purpose platform for instant messaging, social media, making payments and more. The rebrand strategy is thought to be motivated by a desire to compete with China’s WeChat and Vietnam’s Zalo.

Due to the speedy implementation of the rebrand strategy, it is not yet clear if Musk has taken steps to secure trade mark protection for the new logo and other aspects of X’s corporate identity. It is possible that registrations have been filed at the EUIPO and UKIPO, but they may not yet be publicly available. On the other hand, it is also possible that trade mark protection has been overlooked entirely.

Mariana Köpf, trade mark attorney at European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, said:

“There are almost 300 active trade mark registrations for the letter X at the EUIPO, including those owned by Hyundai, Sony and Microsoft, and there are 400 at the UKIPO.

“Worryingly for Musk, there are over one hundred variations of the letter X covering goods and services in Classes 9 and 45 (Twitter’s main areas of interest) registered as trade marks at the EUIPO. Based on this high number, it seems likely that the simply stylised X mark used by Musk is infringing someone else’s right.

“Enforcing trade mark rights for letters of the alphabet can be challenging however. This is because the scope of protection for a single letter sign is more limited, which means they tend only to be considered conflicting if they are highly similar visually and relate to identical, or highly similar goods or services.

There could be significant costs and challenges ahead for the newly branded business, as Mariana Köpf explains:

“Twitter’s years of investment in building a strong brand identity has effectively been scrapped and the newly branded business will have to start from scratch.

“This will involve filing numerous trade mark registrations and establishing a common language to describe the app’s functions. For example, new words will need to be found to replace ‘tweet’ and ‘retweet’, which are not only protected as trade marks in the EU and the UK, but also deeply embedded in users’ brains. It will be interesting to see how this develops.”

Mariana Köpf

Trade Mark group

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Withers & Rogers LLP July 2023