Earlier this week, Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK, voiced his concerns over Salesforce.com’s intent to trademark the term “Social Enterprise” to describe its products and services that leverage the use of social media to engage with customers and build brand loyalty for the enterprise.
“We’re mystified as to why Salesforce are attempting to trademark a term that has been used for well over a decade to describe a way of doing business that exists to tackle social and environmental problems, and is firmly on the radar of politicians and multinationals including Google, Microsoft, Virgin and PwC,” said Holbrook.
Holbrook had written a letter to Salesforce.com’s Director of Intellectual Property, Paul Durdik, in attempt to open “positive dialogue” with the company – something he has been trying to do for months – but so far his concerns have been brushed aside.
Currently, there is no legal definition of the term in the UK, but the consequence of Salesforce.com’s legal adoption of the term has severe implications on populations worldwide that Social Enterprise UK is leading the movement and mobilizing the sector to protect the term.
“Confusion of the term ‘social enterprise’ and our cause at this time is dangerous to us and the people, communities and organisations we are trying to help. Yet you are repeatedly attempting to legally appropriate the term for private gain. To date we haven’t felt the need for a legal framework as our sector is proud of its reputation for inclusivity, openness, creativity and collaboration. But many UK politicians are calling for such a legal interpretation,” states Holbrook in his letter to Durdik.
A spokesperson for Salesforce.com said that the company will not be commenting on this story to the media.
Intellectual property experts say that Salesforce’s attempt to trademark “Social Enterprise” in Europe may be unsuccessful, but possible.
“The essential question the examiner will look at is if the term is sufficiently distinctive,” says Peter Wienand, a partner at law firm Farrer. “On the face of it looks like it will be very difficult for Salesforce to show distinctive character.”
“The term ‘social enterprise’ is so descriptive, it’s almost lifted from a dictionary. The trademark examiner will be very reluctant to give monopoly over the phrase.”
Kenneth Mullen, a partner and specialist in intellectual property at WithersWorldwide, says that the trademark examiner may be unfamiliar with the term “social enterprise”, which may work in the company’s favour.
“I suspect Salesforce has carefully thought through all the issues,” says Mullen.
Social Enterprise UK, who is taking legal advice and leading challenges to Salesforce, does not own a trademark of the term. Experts say that Social Enterprise UK will have to demonstrate that goodwill is associated with the company and the name, a process that can be expensive and time-consuming.
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