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Xerox, Q-Tip -- now tweet?

July 05, 2009


Twitter has applied with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for dibs on the word "tweet."

The San Francisco micro-messaging pioneer's action raises the perennially tricky question of whether a company can own the rights to a word that has so penetrated the English lexicon.

That's what happens when a trademark is "genericized." Think Xerox, Kleenex, Jacuzzi, Q-Tip and, of course, Google. All are silly words that became synonymous with their products, often to the chagrin of the owner, whose legal claim to the much-beloved mark becomes increasingly slippery as the word burrows into the vernacular.

Twitter's pending trademark application is accessible by searching "tweet" through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The request was filed in April and, like most applications, will have to wait four to six months before a trademark examiner in the patent office evaluates it. A search reveals that the application is one of many across the decades for the word "tweet," including everything from sheets and pillowcases to a record company to a hydraulic system.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone explained the move in a blog post, saying no harm was meant to the many applications that have grown up alongside the core service. Many of the services use "tweet" in their names: Tweetdeck, Tweetmeme and Tweetie, to name a few.

"We have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective," Stone wrote. "But we have no intention of 'going after' the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter."

Still, in six months' time, Twitter may find that a lot of the tweet-birds have taken flight before there's a legal basis for protecting the mark.

-- David Sarno

From Technology: The business and culture of our digital lives



Michael Jackson stops the presses

A Montreal publisher has incredible timing -- its unauthorized biography of Michael Jackson had just gone to the printer on June 24, the day before the pop singer's unexpected death. Publisher Pierre Turgeon halted the presses so author Ian Halperin could write a new ending, and the book, previously titled "Michael Jackson: Return From Exile" quickly became "Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson."

"Unmasked" is likely to be one of the first posthumous Michael Jackson biographies to hit shelves. There are rumors that an American publisher has already bought the U.S. rights.

According to a report in Quill & Quire, Turgeon's company, Transit Publishing, was launched sometime after the 2005 bankruptcy of his earlier house, Trait d'Union. In March of this year, Turgeon pleaded guilty to fraud charges in Quebec and was fined. He's also been found to owe a former partner $600,000. But since the new company is not connected to the old one, the partner says, "He is off the hook."

Ian Halperin has experience writing unauthorized bios of musicians, including "Celine Dion: Behind the Fairytale," "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?" and "Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain." He has claimed -- most recently on June 29, in a piece in the Daily Mail -- that Michael Jackson was dangerously thin and that he had a genetic condition that damaged his lungs, leaving him unable to sing.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

From Jacket Copy: Book news and information



That's a negative on Che photos

Five photo negatives of the Cuban revolutionary figure Ernesto "Che" Guevara that went on sale recently at the Mexican auction house Louis C. Morton were withdrawn from the auction after failing to attract a buyer, Milenio newspaper reported.

Mexican students might love the Argentine now credited as one of the most important figures in the Cuban Revolution, alongside Fidel Castro, but it doesn't appear that art and antique buyers feel the same way.

One of the negatives up for auction was an image of Guevara addressing the First Latin American Congress of Youth in 1960.

The bidding for the negatives started at 80,000 pesos (around $6,075) but were withdrawn due to the lack of interest, reports the newspaper.

As we reported in January, when the first part of Steven Soderbergh's film "Che, the Argentine" premiered here, Guevara is popular among the sprawling student population in Mexico City, where he and Castro, then an exiled lawyer, planned the Cuban Revolution over dinner and cigars on July 3, 1955.

The myth and heroic image of Che have replaced a real understanding of the complex man he was. His face is often seen emblazoned on flags and T-shirts at student protests and commonly evoked as a universal symbol of social struggle.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

From La Plaza: News and observations about Latin America from Times correspondents



Attention, anime fans

The giant robot Gundam, from the Japanese TV series of the same name, will be standing tall in Tokyo this summer.

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