Employment

Will Facebook's rebrand put all the other companies named Meta out of business?

Smaller companies could face a David and Goliath battle to keep their name after Mark Zuckerberg decided to create a ‘Metaverse’

“What is meta to Facebook? It’s just a word to them,” said Liam McCarthy, product director at tech company Meta, which has been running for four years.

“At first I thought it was quite funny, literally, kind of humorous,” he said, reacting to the news that Facebook has rebranded as Meta, “but then I was also aware that it was going to cause some issues that we didn’t have before.”

The London and LA based company deals in metadata around TV and media, serving global clients including Warner Media, MGM and HBO. 

But with the news that Facebook has adopted the same name, Meta, a rebrand is now on the cards. 

“What we’re dealing with is literally meta data… the name is pretty core to our company actually, so yeah, it’s frustrating.”

Meta is one of at least four thousand companies in the UK which has woken up to find that it now shares its name with one of the most widely known and most recognisable brands on the planet. 

The name is the new name for Facebook’s umbrella company under which it offers different platforms and services. The names of the apps it provides – Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — will remain the same.

Facebook has announced Meta will better “encompass” what the company does, as it broadens its reach beyond social media into areas like virtual reality (VR).

This is the first step in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s grand plans to create the ‘Metaverse’, an online world where users can game, work and communicate in a virtual environment, often using VR headsets.

Yet a quick search on Companies House finds 4,005 matches to “Meta”, running from Meta Camera, manufacturers of photographic and cinematographic equipment based in south London, to Meta Builders, Meta Beauty, Meta Broadcast, Meta Education and Meta Environmental LTD. 

There are also 1,663 records in the United States Patent and Trademark Office that contain the name Meta.

The new name isn’t exactly unique. And it has perplexed many, not least because the Instagram handle @meta is already unavailable for use – despite Facebook owning Instagram – as it’s taken by a Canadian motorbike magazine. 

 And the online world has come out in full force, cynically tearing the name to shreds.

Meta.com has been owned by Priscilla Chan, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, and the couple filed for a trademark for Meta in 2015.

Meta Data started suspecting its name might soon get global recognition when it received enquiries about some of the urls it owned – variations on its own website meta.how – a few weeks ago.

“I knew that meta.com was run by Zuckerberg’s wife so I thought that it had something to do with Facebook somehow – and there was the idea of “Metaverse” floating around – but we didn’t know that they were going to rebrand everything to exactly the same as our main company name,” said McCarthy.

Meta is such a common term for companies that the change has led to a lot of confusion.

Canadian company Meta Materials shares soared by 32 per cent in what can be assumed a case of mistaken identity, as people look to invest in Facebook’s new rebrand. 

Zoom Technologies enjoyed a similar boom when video-conferencing software Zoom became a household name overnight, and Signal Advance also benefited from a confusion with the private messenger app. 

However this fame and fortune is likely to be short lived, explains Dr Luke McDonagh, an LSE-based researcher specialising in intellectual property law.

McDonagh points out that smaller companies who already have Meta in their name cannot be deprived of their right to continue using it, but there may be severe future implications for sharing the name with the tech giant. 

“There is a risk that Facebook/Meta could try to use its huge wealth and power to enforce its Meta trademark against smaller companies,” he explained. 

In 2020 a small business owner found themselves on the receiving end of “bullying tactics” from tech-giant Apple over the right to use a pear in the logo of their recipe app.

Apple had sent cease and desist letters to the owner, who was “scared” by the tactics and fought the trademark row. 

“Even though under trademark law small companies who already use the ‘Meta’ name cannot be deprived of their existing rights, they may feel intimidated if Facebook/Meta sends them a cease and desist letter, telling them to remove Meta from their branding,” said McDonagh. 

“It would be a David versus Goliath situation. The small company may feel that defending themselves against such a Goliath would be too costly,” he continued.

McDonagh warns that companies called Meta that currently do something similar to Facebook, or that Facebook wants to do in the future could find themselves targeted. 

“Because we deal in similar sort of stuff – I’m not sure what Facebook wants to do in terms of their media opportunities… there could be some sort of crossover,” says Meta’s McCarthy. 

For now, the company is enjoying somewhat of a media buzz that’s been “off the charts” with people hashtagging meta, and “opportunities for some humorous social posts”. 

But a few years down the line, “when you mention Meta, everyone’s going to think of Facebook,” and that’s not an association the company necessarily wants to have.

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