Twitter, Elon Musk and the X: Legal controversy set to hit the new logo adoption

As Twitter turns into X, there are some legal complications company owner Elon Musk should be aware of when it comes to the new logo.

| Updated on: Jul 27 2023, 10:51 IST
The designer behind the new X logo has said that he based it on a Unicode character. (Bloomberg)
The designer behind the new X logo has said that he based it on a Unicode character. (Bloomberg)

The rebranding exercise has come to an end and for all intents and purposes, Twitter is now X. Part of company owner Elon Musk's grander vision of creating a super app, X is now here to create its own identity, and all of it was done in a mere three-day period. There is one little question many are wondering. Rebranding a company as large as Twitter usually takes weeks if not months. So, was Musk rushing things and cutting corners with his haphazard logo change? A new report has highlighted some irregularities around the new logo and has raised the question about whether the company can even use it.

According to a report by The Verge, the first part of the problem comes from the source behind the design of the logo itself. The stylized X, at the end of the day, is just two angular lines intersecting each other. But it turns out that it wasn't designed from scratch. While the Twitter user, Sawyer Merritt, who let Musk use the logo, has maintained that the inspiration behind the logo came from a font the designer found online, the designer himself contradicts the info.

In a tweet, the designer of the logo, Alex, tweeted the story behind the logo and explained that it was based on a Unicode character. The Unicode character in question is U+1D54F, which has existed since 2001, and it resembles the current Twitter logo quite closely. But luckily for Musk, the characters submitted to Unicode Standard are released under the Unicode Licence which is free and open-source for anyone to use without restrictions.

But The Verge has found another origin for the new logo, which makes things more complicated. According to the report, the X from the logo looks very similar to the lowercase X from Monotype's Special Alphabet 4. While Monotype has not issued any statement regarding this, if the two logos match, Musk will have to purchase a license in order to use it.

The trademark issue with X

There is yet another problem with the X logo, and this goes beyond the design. A company logo is also part of its trademark, and protecting a trademark that is a single letter of the alphabet can be insanely challenging. A report by Fast Company stated, “Single letters are among the most popular trademarks registered in the United States. Each letter of the alphabet has, at a minimum, hundreds of trademarks”.

And if you are confused as to how can there be multiple trademarks for the same letter, the answer is simple. Trademarks exist to help consumers distinguish goods and services from one source to another. “A trademark doesn't need to be particularly unique to be protectable, as long as the owner can show that people associate the mark with the brand,” Alexandra Roberts, a law and media professor at Northeastern University, told The Verge.

It will not really be difficult for Musk to get a trademark for X given the large user base of the platform. But the problem comes from those who also use the X trademark. Microsoft is one of them. It had trademarked the X logo in 2003 for its Xbox console, with the purpose listed as “providing on-line chat rooms for transmission of messages among computer users concerning video and computer games.”

Similarly, Meta also has a trademarked X logo, that was registered after it acquired Microsoft's (now defunct) Mixer streaming platform. It also pertains to gaming.

On the surface, this does not seem to affect Musk, given his brand's sector is social media. But that can change quickly. With the aim to build an ‘everything app', gaming will eventually have to be a part of it. Both WeChat and Grab, existing super apps, have gaming within the application. But if Musk swerves into gaming, this can create a potential legal issue with both Meta and Microsoft.

These are still early days, and X will no doubt be looking into the technicalities of all of these issues, but it will be interesting to see how everything pans out, eventually.

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First Published Date: 27 Jul, 10:07 IST