Share this content’s defence of social enterprise trademark fails to quell concerns

20th Aug 2012
Share this content has attempted to calm the storm brewing over its application to trademark the term ‘social enterprise’ in the UK, insisting its move will not restrict use of the phrase in the non-profit sector.

In a new blog post, chairman of EMEA, Steve Garnett, insists the company has only applied to register the trademark for the IT sector and is not seeking to restrict descriptive uses of the phrase ‘social enterprise’ by others in philanthropy, social responsibility, community involvement or mission-driven organisations.
And he emphasises: “When it comes to trademarks, businesses or organisations in different sectors can use the same trademark.”
Garnett also draws attention to’s own charitable work, including its philanthropic model the Foundation.
However, initial responses to the post suggest that this argument has done little to quell the concerns of the non-profit social enterprise community in the UK.
Commenting on the blog, Celia Richardson, director of communications for Social Enterprise UK, stressed that the message did not satisfy her organisation’s concerns, and that they had subsequently voiced their opinions to two of the Dreamforce 2012 keynote speakers, Richard Branson and Angela Ahrendts, as well as CEO Marc Benioff himself.
“Social enterprises are social mission-driven organisations - they get up to all sorts of business activities in order to satisfy these social missions,” she wrote. “This includes computing, platform development, cloud computing, and many other activities. They are not restricted to 'philanthropic' or 'not for profit' sectors and anyone trying to appropriate the name social enterprise for private profit is going to harm the social enterprise movement.”
Other contributors pleaded with to reconsider their trademark registration. “You have an opportunity to take a higher road right now. Social enterprise is a movement to create a better world and it has been a hard earned struggle to mainstream the term as we know it. Just don't do it,” wrote Jason Mollring, founder of Social Enterprise Alley.
“Pick another term and move on. It will be embarrassing and pointless to force your point on this and erode the good works made by your foundation. Show the world true leadership - admit that this is not the way to go and choose another path. That is something we can all get behind.”
Others, however, were most hostile about the attempts to defend the trademark registration. “Your half-hearted blog entry shows a distinct lack of understanding of the term, sheer laziness and profit-driven motives that you think you appear to want to cover with a footnote in your blog,” blasted Guy Walsh, MD of Sweet Opportunity.
Not in our name
Last week Social Enterprise Live revealed that had submitted an application to trademark the term on 24 July and that the firm has already posted 'TM' next to the words on its company website.
Attempting to protect the traditional social enterprise sector, chief of SEUK Peter Holbrook contacted numerous times to discuss the alleged trademark bid.following his failed attempts to engage the software giant, Holbrook instead sent a letter to the firm, stating: "For Salesforce to jeopardise in anyway the social enterprise sector’s progress wouldn’t do much for their reputation. We have taken legal advice and will take the necessary steps to protect the term social enterprise of behalf of all those in the sector."
SEUK subsequently launched a campaign in a bid to help safeguard the 68,000 social enterprises it says exist in the UK. 'Not In Our Name' encourages social enterprise entrepreneurs to post a supporting statement on websites, emails, company newsletters and social media.
Last week, asked experts to share their thoughts on the move.
Some were unsurprised by the move. Ian Moyse from cloud CRM provider believes that this term-grabbing move is one often demonstrated by large firms as they attempt to gain presence in sectors they see as the future.
He adds: "Sometimes these moves can be more annoying and signs of corporate power to the average consumer. Organisations can better earn the right to use the term than demand they own it! Take Facebook, the movie named it The Social Network it didn’t need to buy the term, mention social networking and its nigh on the first name on everyone’s lips by reputation not ownership."
Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, told that if did manage to trademark the term, they would be smart about it.
He says: "This whole trademarking of social enterprise is a tempest in a teapot. If successfully trademarks social enterprise in several countries, at the same time, since they are a very smart company, they will take the prudent course of action and not contest someone's generic use of it, though, of course, I can't speak for them.
"Maybe if someone decided to make it a product name they would do something but for the general industry use it currently has – as a descriptor and at times as a description of an offering, but not the name of an offering – I would have to presume, trademark or not, they would do what they usually do – the smart thing – which would be to let it be. Honestly, I can't imagine they wouldn't. They're too good at what they do."
However, by and large the reaction to the news was negative.
Steve Poncini from social collaboration software provider Telligent doesn't believe the phrase is one that can be trademarked.
He says: "Being social at work means different things for different businesses; does it mean using collaboration platforms, bringing social media into the business model or ensuring that products centre around a social offering? Social enterprise means all of these things and can’t be pinned down by a trademark."
Dan Martin, editor of and blogger behind Social Enterprise Focus, said: "I’m a huge fan of social enterprises (in the non-Salesforce sense of the word!) and the sector has made great strides to go mainstream and gain the sort of public support that movements like Fairtrade have attracted. But there’s still a huge way to go until most people fully understand exactly what the social enterprise way of doing business is and Salesforce’s attempt to trademark the term doesn’t help.
"I don’t think Salesforce will be successful but I do know that it will anger a lot of passionate social entrepreneurs. Ironically though, it might raise the profile of a sector that needs more public support."

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