Elon Musk accused Mark Zuckerberg of “misappropriating Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property on 5th July 2023, after the successful launch of Threads.
When Donald Trump got kicked out of Twitter in 2021, he founded Truth Social, a free speech platform. Nobody took him seriously enough to file an international property suit. Everyone moved on, including the founders and then owners of Twitter. In 2022, however, Elon Musk bought Twitter and called the shots. He fired a number of employees, recalled some, and hired new persons. Elon Musk announced periodic changes and updates to Twitter from his handle. One such change was the monetisation of Twitter blue and other colour ticks. He set a commencement date, and many previously verified Twitter handles lost the blue tick. It was a source of concern that people/brands who were previously verified on Twitter as a result of their hard work were asked to pay an $8 monthly subscription fee to retain their blue ticks.
Fast forward to Thursday, 6th July 2023, the world woke up to the announcement of the launch of Threads, a new social media application by Mark Zuckerberg and his company — Meta. The first question I asked myself was, “When did Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk start their “beef”? As a comic relief, I remember one of the memes that trended after Elon Musk bought Twitter. It was memed that the next thing Elon Musk would buy was Facebook, after which he would then delete. (lol)
On its first day, 30m+ users had signed up on Threads already. I signed up, too and immediately I saw the user interface of Threads, I knew there was going to be an intellectual property dispute between Twitter and Threads for the court to adjudicate. See one of my first threads below:
And then, almost immediately after I sewed the thread above, I saw on the internet a copy of the letter the Attorneys of Elon Musk had written to Mark Zuckerberg and his company to cease and desist from the continuous use of any of Twitter’s trade secrets and intellectual property. No doubt, Threads has certain similar features to Twitter. The letter speaks for itself. Please read below:
According to Elon Musk in his reply to a Tweet by T(w)itter Daily News, “Competition is fine, cheating is not”. This to me sounded like someone whose business has been threatened. And he must do everything legally possible to challenge the threat.
Trade Secrets are intellectual property rights on confidential information which may be sold or licensed. To qualify as a trade secret, the information must be commercially valuable because it is secret, be known only to a limited group of persons, and be subject to reasonable steps taken by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret, including the use of confidentiality agreements for business partners and employees.
The unauthorised acquisition, use or disclosure of such secret information in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices by others is regarded as an unfair practice and a violation of the trade secret’s protection. An example of a trade secret is the Coca-Cola formula. None of us knows it, but most of us have tasted Coca-Cola products.
Trade secrets encompass technical information, such as information concerning manufacturing processes, experimental research data, and software algorithms, and commercial information, such as distribution methods, lists of suppliers and clients, and advertising strategies. One possible defence in support of Threads is that Threads is an extension of Instagram. If you have signed up on Threads, you will realise that you require an active Instagram account before you can sign up on Threads. This defence is not cast in stone.
For us in the Intellectual Property community, our fingers are crossed, looking up to what this litigation would look like and what the court would hold. It is going to be a Landmark case, and it will shape Intellectual Property discussion in relation to software and applications.