Salesforce.com drops under pressure its bid to trademark "social enterprise"

The move comes in the wake of objections from social organizations

Salesforce.com has decided to withdraw its applications to trademark the term "social enterprise" following objections from social organizations who held that the term was understood to describe businesses with a social purpose, it said Tuesday.

The enterprise cloud computing company, which has used the term social enterprise to highlight the use of social media and related technologies by businesses to link with customers, partners, and employees, also said it will look to remove any references to social enterprise in its marketing materials in the future.

Salesforce.com's bid to trademark the term in some countries ran into criticism from prominent people and organizations, including Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who in a joint letter in August to Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's chairman and CEO, asked that the company should cease to use the term social enterprise for private profit, withdraw its applications to trademark the term, and stop using the term to describe its products and services.

"Social enterprise is widely understood to describe businesses that exist to tackle social and environmental issues, whose surpluses are principally reinvested to do so, rather than driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners," according to the letter which had as signatories a number of social workers and heads of organizations focused on social causes.

Social Enterprise UK, the national organization for social enterprises in that country, lead a campaign called "Not In Our Name", that aims to keep the name "for the REAL social enterprise movement."

The social organizations were concerned that a trademark on social enterprise by Salesforce.com could lead to confusion as the social sector, both non-profits and for profits, define the term social enterprise as organizations that use commercial strategies with the aim of improving human and environmental well-being, including reducing poverty or improving education, the company said.

In a blog post in August, the company said that when it comes to trademarks, businesses or organizations in different sectors can use the same trademark. "Salesforce.com does not own or intend to own the trademark rights for the term social enterprise within the nonprofit sector, and is not seeking to restrict descriptive uses of the phrase by others in philanthropy, social responsibility, community involvement or mission-driven organizations," it added.

Benioff said in a statement Tuesday that it was never the company's intention "to create confusion in the social sector which we have supported since our founding".

Salesforce.com has been adding to its portfolio of social media technologies for business, including by its August acquisition of social media marketing platform Buddy Media, which is used by nearly 1,000 customers including Ford and L'Oreal.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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