Fighting for freerecyling

Why trademarking freecycle is a bad thing

People who read this blog will see that I am not exactly pro-trademarking. For many they may think I am trying to do TFN down. This is most definitely not the case. It is just that for the kind of industry that TFN operates in trademarking is a very wrong thing to do. In addition to the criticisms I have levelled elsewhere in this blog there is one fundamental reason about which I have not blogged so far, at least in detail.

So far what I have concentrated on is whether TFN actually have a right to trademark. I am sure that from Deron’s perspective he is thinking well if I do not have that right, then no one else does.

To understand this you must envisage the initial meetings between the founder of TFN and its legal and accounting advisers. They might argue things like, “if you do not trademark then anyone or any company will be able to take the name over and use it against you.”

This, I feel is probably the key argument that might have been made in favour of trademarking. Sadly it is wrong.

We all know (at least I hope all my readers know) there is a court case about the freecycle trademark claim going through the 9th Circuit courts. The result which was due last month is now due this month. Predicting exactly when the result might appear seems a challenge, so we will just wait and when I know, so will you.

So here what I would like to concentrate on is why I think trademarking the word freecycle is fundamentally a wrong turn for TFN.

If anyone has made a big “business” out of the word freecycle then it has to be Deron – 76 countries, 4000 groups is no mean feat. There are a number of people who claim, with evidence, that he “gave” the word freecycle to the world. In the beginning, for example, he built the first website boasting the verb “freecycling” (actually the “g” was dropped in favour of an apostrophe. Beyond that he encouraged groups to use the word freely. No mention was made of trademarking.

And then the lawyers got involved and, in my opinion advised Deron badly. They knew that if they were acting pro-bono on that day and in the near future then if they were ever going to recoup their investment in full then advising against trademarking was not the way to do that. Instead looking at the value of Internet domain name sales and also the value of strong brand names must have seemed like manna from heaven, just a few years downstream. So why not trademark?

So, with no answers being stated, the crank started on the trademark machinery factory. In the UK we tend to be more driven by accountants than lawyers, so we might have have a clearer perspective on a subject such as this. In the USA once the first turn had been made the engine started and has never stopped ever since.

I am sure that in his heart of hearts right at the beginning Deron knew that trademarking was wrong. That was why he encouraged full use of the word (that had actually been first registered as a domain name for other businesses three or four years earlier in the year 2000).

So what IS wrong with the trademarking engine.

I believe that if Deron had not gone down the trademarking way then the word would have truly been accepted as a generic word. 76 countries and 10 million people all freecycling as freecyclers and all the volunteers is a fair bit of ammunition to stop any would be predator company coming in.

I believe that owning and maintaining the domain name associated with this worldwide enterprise would have been sufficient.

I believe that if Deron had not gone down the trademarking route then he would have had so much credibility from the world that 76 countries and 10 million people and all the volunteers would have supported him to the ends of the earth.

All this would have happened because that is the nature of Internet social communities.

It is not too late to stop.

September 10, 2007 - Posted by | freecycle, trademark

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