Someone else isn’t happy about Square 3D-izing its name to Block: tax preparation and financial services firm H&R Block last week filed a lawsuit against Jack Dorsey’s company, calling the renaming an “attack.”
The filing puts Dorsey and his business activities in yet another legal dispute over naming rights. Block, if it’s allowed to keep that name, could soon find itself competing in court over the name “Bitcoin,” which forms the most public and best-known aspect of its blockchain-related businesses.
We are protecting the reputation and trust we have built over 65+ years. This morning, we filed a trademark infringement lawsuit, seeking to prevent Block, Inc.—formerly Square, Inc.—from improperly using the Block name and family of trademarks. https://t.co/6mF55e32GR pic.twitter.com/L0bRGp2tyk
— H&R Block News (@HRBlockNews) December 16, 2021
H&R Block, founded in Kansas City in 1955 by brothers Henry and Richard Bloch, is a well-known name in the U.S., Canada and Australia. It also offers other business consulting, payroll and other financial services, and has since the 1980s had an interest in IT solutions for tax and finance. Its most recent acquisition in that area was Canada’s Wave Financial in 2019.
Whether Square/Block’s renaming was an intentional attempt to capitalize on a more famous company’s reputation (as H&R Block contends) or an innocent oversight, there is definitely some overlap in the two companies’ business areas. The company pointed out a few examples on its website:
“The goodwill and brand identity that Block has carefully cultivated and nurtured over the last 65 years is under attack by the Silicon Valley fintech company, which announced plans on December 1, 2021 to rebrand as Block, Inc. The newly named Block, Inc. competes directly with Block in several areas of financial services, including tax preparation through its recent purchase of Credit Karma Tax, now called Cash App Taxes.”
H&R Block President and CEO Jeff Jones said it was crucial to protect and defend the company’s brand, saying:
“Today’s filing is an important effort to prevent consumer confusion and ensure a competitor cannot leverage the reputation and trust we have built over more than six decades.”
H&R Block generates over US$3 billion in annual revenues, and employs almost 3,000 people full-time and over 90,000 seasonally.
Jack Dorsey, who recently quit as CEO of Twitter (a company he co-founded in 2006) is a well-known BTC proponent, complete with a Lightning emoji in his Twitter handle and the one-word bio “#bitcoin”.
Dr. Craig S. Wright, whose claim as the sole creator of Bitcoin and its technology was solidified with a jury victory in the recent Kleiman vs. Wright trial, has called any project using the name “Bitcoin” for networks other than BSV “fraudulent.” He has put companies violating his intellectual property on notice he is prepared to take legal action against any project using his Bitcoin brand name, targeting centralized protocol developers of BTC and BCH as well as major exchanges and other related services.
Though some have attempted to counter that argument by claiming no-one can “own” the name Bitcoin, Dr. Wright has pointed out the transaction database driving BTC, BCH and BSV is his intellectual property under the terms of Satoshi Nakamoto‘s original MIT license. Without that database, neither BTC nor BCH could function—forcing developers into a position where they would need to negotiate a licensing deal with Dr. Wright. The terms of such a deal would likely involve a name change.
Database ownership and rights could well be a hot legal issue in 2022 and beyond. However, there is already an active suit by Square/Block’s COPA organization against Dr. Wright over the copyright of the 2008 Bitcoin white paper and other intellectual property necessary to operate blockchain-based networks.
Dr. Wright has already won one case in the High Court of England and Wales over the white paper copyright and has vowed to fight COPA all the way. BTC and COPA members would be exposed as frauds by passing BTC off as “Bitcoin” to the public, he has said.
Rather than kicking off a financial revolution by piggybacking on well-known names, Dorsey could soon find himself with neither Bitcoin nor Block. There is a lot of power (and money) in both those words in the 2020s, but the claim to their pedigrees will be contested.
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