Author: Nadia Adani

Only a few months after taking over Twitter, its new boss, Elon Musk, has decided to make a momentous shift away from the past and the mentality associated with the previous ownership. And so, on a very warm evening at the end of July, he shared with the world his intention to let go of the very famous TWITTER  trademark and its “bird” logo, replacing both with the letter “X”.

As early as last April, the company had already changed its name to X Corp., reflecting Elon Musk’s inclination to adopt the 24th letter of the alphabet in respect of its activities. Subsequently, the head of Twitter launched a very quick poll among its users, thereby adopting the logo proposed by a fan who had previously used it for a podcast specifically dedicated to Elon Musk.

The well-known TWITTER and “bird” logo trademarks have therefore been replaced with a flick of the wrist by the letter “X”. Informing the world of this unexpected change was Elon Musk himself who, while describing the new brand as provisional, promptly began to remove the earlier familiar “bird” logo , replacing it with the new “X” which, just in case it should go unnoticed, was projected on the facade of the San Francisco headquarters, Gotham-City style.

But why such a major upheaval? The company’s desire is to go beyond the boundaries drawn by the late Twitter and to explore new avenues. “X” is in fact destined to become much more than a social network: a real site for audio and video content, payments and banking transactions, which has the ambition to bring – as stated by the new CEO Linda Yaccarino – a radical change in the way people meet, entertain each other, and carry out transactions, through the use of a single platform. Such a radical change could not have been achieved without a complete overhaul of the brand, until now so strongly linked to blogging and messaging.

In the past, some of Twitter’s competitors have changed their names, for example, Facebook became Meta Platform, Snapchat was contracted into Snap and Google became Alphabet, although even though the company name was changed, the platform’s trademark remained unchanged because the trademark is the distinctive sign recognised and appreciated by users and to change it, after its having achieved such a high and recognisable value, is no small thing.

What is most surprising is the fact that TWITTER was not only an extremely strong brand, but an authentic lexicon had been created around it; tweet had indeed become a recognised verb, to the extent that tweeting or retweeting, are words that have entered the common language of users and, from now on, will no longer have any reason to be used and will be replaced by “banal” expressions such as posting, reposting or perhaps “Xposting”.

Rarely does a trademark manage to become so intertwined with the daily lives of its users, and the upheaval brought about by Musk is too important not to have consequences. According to some estimates, the complete deletion of TWITTER and the “bird” logo could cause the company to lose from USD 4 to 20 billion in value.

Generally speaking, a well-planned rebranding can lead to the achievement of new corporate goals such as those set by Elon Musk and his staff, but there is no doubt that, beyond the obvious economic repercussions, this strategic choice can lead to significant risks. Firstly, the company will have to reckon with the reaction of the public who, fond of the “cute bird” and its “chirping”, may not appreciate this radical change, leading, at least temporarily, to a loss of interest in the platform.

The adoption of a trade mark, moreover, even if by a giant, has to respect the requirements of intellectual property law.

From a legal point of view, a trade mark may even consist of a single letter and no stricter criteria than for other types of trade marks need to be applied when assessing its distinctiveness. Thus, even a sign consisting of a single letter may be inherently distinctive if it does not appear descriptive of the goods or services claimed by the mark. However, it is clear that individual letters of the alphabet are limited signs, of general use, and their monopolisation by a single entity must therefore be conceded with great caution.

It is true that the “X” adopted by Elon Musk is characterised by a specific stylisation that makes the mark more distinctive and recognisable, but it is also true that this stylisation does not deviate very much from the standard and is not particularly original.  Another aspect of no small importance is the fact that the letter X is widely used in the media sector. Microsoft and Meta are just a couple of the companies that use marks consisting of the letter X, which, although graphically different, might become an obstacle to the use and registration of the new sign.

At the same time, the protection granted to a registered trademark that is so widespread in the industry and with such weak distinctiveness will make it extremely difficult to defend against imitations without the help of time and the huge investments that will certainly accompany not only the launch, but the entire life of X Corp’s new brand. Brand recognition is in fact neither something that can be taken for granted nor something that can be transferred from one trademark to another, but must be built up over time and with significant investments, including advertising.

The TWITTER and bird logo’s value and the characteristics for which both were so highly regarded are certainly not transferable to the letter “X” and the greatest risk is that it will lead to a loss of trust on the part of users who, instead of looking at the new services on offer, might not recognise the continuity of the values to which they were attached and the identity of the brand:   although this may be precisely what Elon Musk wants.