META – WHAT THE ZUCK! Quarter 4 2021

By HANS MUHLBERG December 2021, Published in MUHLBERG'S BRIEF

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Sometimes a company feels the need to change its name – the existing name is no longer working; it's time to freshen things up.... Fair enough, from time to time we all feel that it would be quite useful if we could change our name!

rgadThe corporate name-change process goes something like this:

      • The ponytails are briefed to come up with a name, often one that does the touchy-feely stuff like capture what the company is all about, what it stands for. Or, more accurately, capture what the company would like us to believe it stands for – if it were otherwise, companies would all have names like Making Bucks and Raking It In.
      • The grey-suits then enter the fray – there's a clearance exercise to establish what, if any, trademark objections the company may face.
      • If the company decides that the risks are manageable – and this decision may be based on little more than the fact that it has deeper pockets than the likely objectors – the trademark registration process will start.
      • At some stage during the process, there will be public scepticism, ridicule even.

News feed

OK, the final step – the scepticism/ridicule thing – isn't inevitable, but it has certainly been a feature of the announcement that Facebook will become Meta, a name that will be used in conjunction with an infinity sign logo.

To be clear, the change of name from Facebook to Meta applies simply to the holding company (a company that also owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), rather than the actual social networking service that so much of the world depends on for... To be honest, I have no idea what it is people get from Facebook; there are actually a few of us who've never felt the need. Although, I should add that I'm not one of those totally out-of-touch types who calls it The Facebook.

Trending

Many think that the change of name is not unrelated to the fact that Facebook has been having a rather hard time of it of late – what with ex-employee Frances Haugen spilling the beans about a company that (shock/horror) 'puts profits over safety.' A commentator quoted in The Verge thinks that the decision to change the name of the holding company but not the service may be about 'distancing the parent company from the Facebook product so that any toxicity in Facebook stays within that one product.'

Timeline

Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg denies that the recent controversies surrounding Facebook motivated the change of name to Meta. Says Mark: 'I've been thinking about Meta ever since 2014, it's all about the fact that we're moving into the metaverse.'

Top story

So what exactly is the metaverse? Well, it doesn't actually exist yet, but it's already being called the 'successor to the internet.' Here's the Daily Knowledge: 'By 2030 most people will be spending time in a fully immersive 3D version of the web… technology will let you show up in a virtual space as a full-bodied avatar or appear as a hologram in your friend's living room, anywhere on the planet.' The metaverse will 'seem so real that people will spend every day there – unlocking an entirely new economy of virtual goods and services.' And things are happening – Nike has already filed trade mark applications for virtual goods.

Zuckerberg apparently feels the need to sell this thing to the oldies – he suggests that the metaverse will be great for his own parents because it will allow them to get more intimately involved with their grandkids. No more boring and impersonal video calls from the grandkids. In years to come, the senior Zuckerbergs are 'going to feel like they're right in the moment with us, not peering through a little window.' An observation, Mark – I suspect that for many grandparents, the occasional on-screen chat is more than enough!

Block

There has been a degree of ridicule about the name Meta – yes, it may have a positive meaning in Greek (as in above or beyond something else), but in Hebrew, it means death, and who wants that as a trademark?!

The name certainly isn't unique – a US company, Meta PCs, has a US trademark application for Meta which was filed in August 2021, and it has said that it will be looking for US$20 million if Zuckerberg wants it.

But a Canadian company called Meta Inc has already assigned its trademark applications for Meta to a body called the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, whereas Facebook, Inc has itself filed applications to register Meta with the logo in a number of classes for very long specifications of goods and services.

Trademark protection for Meta may not be straightforward. An issue that Facebook may face is that the word Meta is not exactly distinctive, being the first part and obvious abbreviation of a word that describes this bold new world (metaverse). I'm not sure that Zuckerberg has helped his cause much by saying things like this :

Over time, I hope that we're seen as a metaverse company… I want to anchor identity on what we're building towards.'

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I hope you do; I think you'll hear much more on this story.

Muhlberg, is a SA, UK and EU qualified IP lawyer. He presently finds himself in the UK, offering consulting and content writing services to various law firms: muhlbergip@gmail.com.