One of the Foundation’s stewardship obligations is to maintain brand integrity. We need to protect the goodwill, value, and meaning associated with the brands so that they can continue to represent and serve the Wikimedia projects and movement.
A trademark is some sort of word, phrase, or design that identifies goods or services. Trademarks serve to let people know the source or origin of those goods or services. The most common types of trademarks are words and logos, but sounds, colors, and even smells can function as trademarks if they have a strong enough connection to a particular good or service. Legal protections for trademarks grant the owner of a mark the exclusive right to use it. The purpose of that protection is to provide a public service by helping consumers know that what they are seeing is genuine.
The names and logos of the Wikimedia projects all function as trademarks. When someone goes to wikipedia.org, sees the name “Wikipedia”, and sees the Wikipedia puzzle globe logo, they know that what they are reading is genuine Wikipedia content. Due to the use of free licenses, anyone can copy Wikipedia articles and present them on their own website. However, they can’t call their website “Wikipedia”—if they did so, it would be confusing to visitors. That sort of confusion can harm the Wikipedia brand by undermining any confidence or trust the public might have in Wikipedia. The Foundation receives many reports of Wikipedia mirror sites that are reusing content without attribution and infringing on the Wikimedia trademarks in order to mimic Wikipedia. We address these sites as part of our trademark enforcement efforts.
We are able to ensure that only the Wikimedia movement can use and be associated with the Wikimedia trademarks by registering the marks with trademark offices around the world. There are international treaties that help to facilitate trademark protection, but trademark registration is mostly done on a country-by-country basis (or it can be regional, like for the European Union).
Currently, we have over 2500 registrations for the Wikimedia trademarks in over 110 jurisdictions.
Due to the global scope of the Wikimedia mission and the worldwide use of the Wikimedia projects, we need to file a lot of registrations to cover all the areas where our marks are used. Currently, we have over2500 registrations for the Wikimedia trademarks in over 110 jurisdictions. These local registrations help protect against third parties who might try to piggyback on the Wikimedia movement’s international reputation or use a name similar to one of the Wikimedia trademarks. We don’t want an unrecognized organization to present themselves as a Wikimedia chapter, particularly in countries where the Wikimedia communities might still be in early stages of growth. We also don’t want a third party to start selling Wikipedia-branded products or services without our permission and with no connection to Wikipedia or its values. When we have a local trademark registration, we are in a much better position to address these sorts of infringement.
We could easily have many more registrations, and we work to fill registration gaps every year, but we have to prioritize based on our available resources. Our prioritization is informed by the popularity of projects and community activity in a particular region. For example, we want to ensure that we have trademark protection wherever there is a Wikimedia chapter, and anywhere that hosts a Wikimania conference.
We have the most protection for the “core marks”: “Wikipedia”, “Wikimedia”, and their associated logos. Over half of our total trademark registration portfolio is for those core marks.
Creating New Assets
Most of the core branding in the Wikimedia movement has come from community proposals and been approved through voting and design competitions. Brand assets are most commonly made through two pathways: a decentralized, volunteer-led and designed approach; or by design specialists at the Wikimedia Foundation producing things like campaigns, video content, gifs and designed images. The latter category includes things like design assets for Wikimania, Wikipedia’s 20th birthday, and the Wikimedia brand portal. Regardless of which design approach is used, the same set of criteria helps to determine how effective the results are. We at the Foundation consider the criteria listed below when designing or evaluating brand assets, and community-led brand design projects will produce the best results if they also consider these criteria.
There are two ways in which a brand asset needs to be distinct. First, it needs to be distinct from other brands. We don’t want a third party to oppose our use of a brand asset and accuse us of trademark infringement. For example, we ran into issues related to similarities of marks in 2013, when deciding on a new logo for Wikivoyage. In that case, the Foundation received a cease and desist notice from another organization due to perceived similarities between their logo and the initial community-chosen Wikivoyage logo. In such situations, engaging in a formal trademark dispute can be quite extensive and take several years to resolve. For the Wikivoyage logo, which was newly designed and did not already have widespread recognition or associated goodwill, it was more efficient and expedient to use a different design. The Wikivoyage logo incident underscored the importance of conducting clearance searches on any new marks that we intend to use. Whenever a new project name or logo is developed, we conduct a search to find if there are any similar marks already in use.
Second, a brand asset that serves as a trademark needs to be distinct enough to receive protection under trademark law. Different countries use different standards on this point, but in the United States there is an established spectrum of distinctiveness.
We want to avoid using generic or descriptive marks that may be difficult or impossible to protect.
The basic idea is that generic, descriptive terms (or designs) do not work well as trademarks because it is harder for them to connect a particular product or service to its source. An entirely invented term does work well as a trademark, because it has no other meaning. We want to avoid using generic or descriptive marks that may be difficult or impossible to protect.
Our movement and mission are global in focus and ambition, so we do not want our brand assets to be overly tied to a particular culture or language. We want brands that anyone who shares our vision of “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge” can understand and relate to. You can see the Wikipedia brand improving in this regard in the progression of Wikipedia logos over time. Early logos used English text, but as new versions were created they incorporated a wider range of writing systems. Even the “Wikipedia” wordmark has been transliterated to accompany the different language versions of Wikipedia.
Did you know that one of the first Wikipedia logos incorporated text from Lewis Carroll’s Euclid and his Modern Rivals to illustrate the experimental nature of Wikipedia as a project? More recently, people around the world associate Wikipedia with the “rabbit hole” concept, and the term “rabbit hole” is derived from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
A connected brand system
Branding through our marks, colors, graphic shapes and forms is a powerful way to connect the disparate parts of our movement: all of the Wikimedia projects, the work of our affiliates, our partnerships, in-person events, campaigns, and beyond. As we strive to bring more people into the movement, as per our strategic direction, creating strong links between our open and participatory brand system is key. In short, we want a cohesive look, feel, and theme to our work across the movement so that we have a powerful and memorable shared identity around free knowledge. We do this so that one day, when a young teen who is thinking of volunteering meets their local user group or discovers a Wikimedia project in their language, they know through our shared brand identities that the group is part of a bigger collective endeavor: the global free-knowledge movement that encompasses Wikipedia, WikiCommons, The Wikimedia Foundation and more.