Salesforce Bows To Peer Pressure, Withdraws ‘Social Enterprise’ Trademark Applications

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So much for that. In a victory for all of us who find the idea of trying to trademark generic-sounding terms tedious — and a victory, too, for those who actually work in the world of social enterprise — Salesforce.com has announced that it has withdrawn its applications to trademark the term “social enterprise,” originally filed earlier this year in the U.S., UK, Australia and Jamaica. It’s also promising to stop using the term “social enterprise” in its marketing materials in the future.

In a statement, the company today acknowledged that part of the reason for its turnaround was the response from the “social sector” — that is, non-profits — who worried that Salesforce’s trademarking of the term would cause a lot of confusion. Indeed, while Salesforce applies the term to how businesses use social media — and has been marketing a suite of services to help them do this — Salesforce today acknowledged that the social sector uses the same term for “organizations that apply commercial strategies to improve human and environmental well-being such as reducing poverty or improving education.” In other words, not quite the same thing as monitoring a hashtag around the launch of a new perfume.

The response from the non-profit sector had been strong. It included a letter to Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff, signed by Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, co-authors of The Spirit Level, among others, asking the company to stop referring to massive corporates’ use of social media as “social enterprise.”

Meanwhile the Social Enterprise Alliance had taken to the internet in its fight, launching a site, THISisSocialEnterprise.com.

In short, Saleforce was headed for PR disaster the more it tried to push its idea.

Salesforce’s client list includes Burberry, Spotify and Virgin America among many others.

Salesforce had already had a setback in its applications — originally filed in the U.S., UK, Jamaica and Australia — when the USTPO in March initially rejected its application saying the term was too general. It had six months to appeal, taking it to the middle of September. Today’s move pre-empts that deadline.

“It was never our intention to create confusion in the social sector which we have supported since our founding,” said Benioff in a statement. “As a result of the feedback we received, salesforce.com has decided to withdraw its efforts to trademark the term ‘social enterprise’ and plans to discontinue its use in our marketing.”

Still, for a company that prides itself on its burgeoning corporate client base and rapidly growing social media assets — the jewel of which is its $689 million acquisition of Buddy Media earlier this year — the move is a setback, and will likely send the company out in search of a new way of describing this part of their business to be able to sell the idea better to its users. Any suggestions?