eBay stole my made up word (or maybe not)

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windorphWhen Bill Cobb originally announced eBay’s new advertising campaign, it seemed a bit bizarre: the word “endorphin” is surely too obscure to make a good portmanteau word, and I could imagine millions of people looking at the advertising, going “huh?” But the posters I saw slapped all over Boston looked good: cutesy, fun and colourful, they are definitely attractive. The website is an acceptible attempt at viral marketing. I thought this might do alright.

Then I came across a strange tale entitled eBay stole my Windorphins. As far as I can tell, the story goes like this:

  • Chap goes to Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in March, hears Meg Whitman use word “windorphins”.
  • Chap thinks word is cool, buys windorphins.com domain name.
  • In May, chap gets call from eBay’s lawyers, demanding release of domain name. “She told me that … Whitman had spilled the beans prematurely and that I had beaten the company’s domain name manager by hours in landing the dot-com moniker.”
  • Chap *gives* domain name to eBay.

Though some of the usual suspects are saying Rick should have held out for cash here, I can understand why he didn’t. Moral right doesn’t mean you’re going to beat a big corporation’s lawyers: why put yourself and your family through that? More importantly, Motley Fool restricts the size of gifts its writers can receive: why put your living on the line too? – though if eBay had wanted to make a big charity donation on his behalf, that would have been the decent thing to do.

And if you want to talk about the morality of the situation, as Rick’s idea was inspired directly by what Meg said, one might very well argue it wasn’t his word to register in the first place.

I think some important lessons can be learned from this episode, and they’re all practical rather than principled:

  • If you’re a marketer, register domain names no later than one second after you’ve had your good idea.
  • If another company gives you a great trademark idea, don’t be surprised if they want it back.
  • If you’re an industry leader with insider knowledge of your company’s up and coming marketing campaign, remember to keep your mouth shut.

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