Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin project TBD kills its plan to trademark ‘Web5’
A plan that would have seen a corporate entity trademark “Web5” has been canceled after much backlash. Late Tuesday night, TBD, the Bitcoin-focused division of Jack Dorsey’s payments company Block (formerly Square), announced an ill-thought-out plan to trademark the term, which refers to its vision for a decentralized, privacy-focused iteration of the future web that TBD has been promoting in recent months. TBD explained in its announcement that trademarking “Web5″ would protect it from misuse and ensure it’s used as intended .”
This move was not a success with the TBD community. Many reacted negatively to the idea that open-source technology could be free without a gatekeeper.
“Welcome, to the real decentralized internet. you will need our permission in order to be able to use the term decentralized web…,” remarked another user, when retweeting the announcement. “Can’t tell the truth from satire
Other comments seemed to also poke fun of this idea that we even need to name and brand every iteration web — as it is now with web3.
According to TBD, the idea to trademark “Web5” was born from issues it saw in which the term was being used to describe other products and services that were “diametrically opposite to the tenets Web5 that we set out.” TBD believed that scammers and grifters were using the term improperly. People have tried to sell “Web5” tokens and NFTs as “Web5 .”
The company stated that it would be possible for TBD to seek protection for “Web5” in order to avoid confusion and protect its principles. It planned to allow commercial and noncommercial use of “Web5” later, provided that participants agree to uphold its main attributes (identity solutions, decentralized principles, open source protocols)
“Eventually, we hope to establish a coalition of companies, individuals and other stakeholders to maintain these standards,” TBD’s original announcement stated.
In subsequent tweets, TBD Lead Mike Brock responded to complaints by noting that such a plan would not be unusual for the space. He said that Linux is trademarked. The Free Software Foundation also has trademarks. Several people agreed with this decision, but others felt that it would be against Web5’s overall principles of decentralization.
“So some centralization, got it,” mocked one user.
For several months, TBD has been promoting the term Web5, explaining how Web5 technologies could bring decentralized identity and data storage to applications while returning ownership of data and identity to individuals. This concept is intended to address issues in today’s web, where identity and personal information have become the property third parties. Web5 would allow users connect with apps using their decentralized identity instead of creating new profiles for every service they want to try. If users want to switch apps, they can take their social persona (which includes their connections and relationships) with them.
But only six hours after unveiling its plan to trademark “Web5,” TBD announced its plan has been scrapped due to community backlash.
“…we heard voices from the community concerned about the possibility of trademark law being misused in ways that would weaken the mission of decentralization. We hear you,” wrote the company, admitting that its move could undermine people’s trust in its mission.
“Therefore, we are suspending and rescinding our previously announced plan under further notice.”
TBD declined comment beyond what was already posted to Twitter.
(Updated 11/30/22, 12: 50 p.m. ET with TBD response on a request for comment. )
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.