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Web 2.0 opens can of worms for Cork

David and Goliath-style legal battle

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American technical publishers O'Reilly Media has formally requested Irish non-profit group IT@Cork not to call an upcoming discussion "Web 2.0".

A letter dated 24 May from a lawyer acting for the O'Reilly partner company CMP, claims to have a pending application for the term "Web 2.0" as a service mark for arranging IT conferences, ENN has learned. CMP asserts that use of this term by the Irish networking forum for a conference it is arranging next month is a "flagrant violation" of CMP's rights.

"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," the letter asserts.

Under US law a service mark is similar to a trademark but relates to services and advertising rather than products.

"Web 2.0 is a generic term so I don't see how they can get a service mark for that term," IT@Cork committee member Tom Raftery told ENN. "Regardless of that we are in Ireland not the American jurisdiction," he said.

"O'Reilly publishing did arrange conferences in 2004 and 2005 - they even invited me to one - but the special VIP fee for attending is USD2,795, whereas if you want to attend our talk in June it's EUR50. I think it would be difficult to mix up these conferences: one is in California and the other is in Cork."

The legal letter goes on to note that IT@Cork's "mis-use" of the Web 2.0 term is "exacerbated" by the organisation's conference promotional material where it asks "what is Web 2.0?" and links to an article by Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media. In this essay, O'Reilly claims that the term Web 2.0 was coined in a brainstorming session between O'Reilly Media and its pre-CMP partners MediaLive International.

Raftery told ENN he had invited Tim O'Reilly to attend next month's IT@Cork conference back in February, but that O'Reilly was unavailable to visit Ireland until October this year. To add insult to injury it appears that O'Reilly is apparently originally from Cork.

For a sizeable number of bloggers this minor row between the two organisations has taken on a symbolic significance, as the whole point of the next evolution of the internet - or Web 2.0 - is that it is generally open, in so far as anyone can use it and that web applications are generally free to use.

"The real test of Web 2.0 is user interaction," Raftery said. "It's not all open source, but open for users to add comments and tag objects instead of book marking pages, creating blogs and creating wikis. It is in essence online interactivity."

Due to time zone differences, a spokesperson for CMP was not contactable. However, the brouhaha in the blogosphere prompted O'Reilly Media's communications vice president Sara Winge to issue an online statement on Thursday.

"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 [O'Reilly] to speak at the conference, though our Web 2.0 Conference team didn't know that. We've sent a follow-up letter to [IT@Cork] who 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."

Raftery is not happy with the "permission" given to use the Web 2.0 term and shows no sign of backing down.

One commenter on Raftery's own blog suggested changing the Cork conference from Web 2.0 to Web 2.1. Could the solution be that simple?

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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