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Lucy Griffiths

SEO Trademark Attempt Fails

16th Mar 2010 SEO 2 minutes to read

Unbeknownst to many, a two-year effort to trademark the term SEO ended in failure late last week. In a pitched battle between SEO professionals and one Jason Gambert, common sense was the prevailing champion.

These events have slowly unfolded over the past couple of years. During which, intermittent updates provided a brief glimpse into the case. The US-based registration could have had far-reaching consequences were it to be approved. Fortunately, SEOmoz were quick to recognise the danger posed by this ‘one clever Internet Marketer‘.

They filed an objection along with three other SEO experts, halting any default claims to the trademarked ownership of SEO. This was in April 2008 though. It wasn’t until March 11th 2009 that the sole remaining objector, Rhea Drysdale of Outspoken Media, successfully foiled this futile plot.

Of course this isn’t the first time that somebody has tried in vain to trademark a phrase, even SEO. In this instance though, it could have had far reaching consequences for the industry and the labelling of SEO services.

Whether it was ever really going to be successful or enforceable is hard to judge. Gambert effectively wanted to use his trademark to control the use of SEO as a phrase, giving permission to those he deemed worthy. This would be no easy task.

Koozai offer SEO services, we have also invested time in optimising our site to promote this and other SEO related terms. Along with Search Engine Marketing, it is one of the clear indicators of the services we provide. If we were to suddenly become unable to use the term on our site, within any of our literature or linking, what would we optimise for? How would we attract visitors looking for SEO, without using SEO?

The same can be true of any phrase. If you accidentally use a generic phrase that has been trademarked, you can find yourself in hot water. This is perfectly evidenced by another SEOmoz case study, in which they highlighted a fight between US removal giant U-Haul and tiny start-up Hire a Helper.  In this instance the smaller company outranked U-Haul for ‘moving helper’. Innocuous enough. But this is a trademarked term used by U-Haul. Trouble.

Trademarks and registered terms can be a minefield. But if SEO were to become one of these, the implications could be far-reaching. It is, in many ways, a generic term for online marketing. People within the industry use it religiously, as such it has filtered out to those searching for related services.

The phrase match search for “SEO Company” on Google number 1,730,000 at the time of writing this post. That would represent 1.7 million indexed pages that would have to be changed or moderated.

SEO has become its own generic term. It started to be used around 1997, although the actual source is largely unknown. It has organically grown to become a vital part of the online marketer’s vocabulary. Losing that now would enforce a major shift.

Without permission to use SEO™, what would you use as an alternative? Search Engine Maximisation? Search Engine Betterment? Search Engine Ranking Improvement? Whatever you choose, that phrase would take time to catch on and take over the tried and trusted industry favourite (just ask Microsoft Bing).

We owe a debt of gratitude to Rhea Drysdale and everybody else involved in preventing SEO from becoming a controllable phrase. Whilst sharks do need to be removed from the online marketing millpond; there are better ways of doing so.

Trademarks are (potentially) a legally enforceable word or phrase, that restricts usage to a select few. SEO, for now at least, has avoided that particular fate.

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