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Australia & UK to Challenge ‘Hijacking’ of Social Enterprise

16 August 2012 at 12:54 pm
Lina Caneva
Not for Profits in the social enterprise space in Australia and the UK are challenging attempts by a multinational cloud computing company to trademark “Social Enterprise”.

Lina Caneva | 16 August 2012 at 12:54 pm


Australia & UK to Challenge ‘Hijacking’ of Social Enterprise
16 August 2012 at 12:54 pm

Not for Profits in the social enterprise space in Australia and the UK are challenging attempts by a multinational cloud computing company to trademark “Social Enterprise”.

Members of an alliance of 14 Australian Not for Profits have described the move by the company,, to trademark the words ‘social enterprise’ in Australia and the UK, as hijacking the term that is widely used by the sector.

Salesforce has patents pending in Australia after lodging trademark applications to the Australian Patents Office in July and similar trademark applications were made to the UK Intellectual Property Office to trademark ‘social enterprise’ on 24 July. It is believed similar applications have been made in the US.

Following complaints from English organisations, umbrella organisation Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) has written to the international software and content management company expressing concern about the corporate’s use of the term ‘social enterprise’ and the impact it claims this will have on the Not for Profit sector.

SEUK has also begun an online campaign called “Not in Our Name” on behalf of the social enterprise sector to counter the actions of Salesforce. .

“SEUK initiated talks with social enterprise networks across the globe about the launch of a campaign if further action is deemed necessary to protect the ‘social enterprise’ term on behalf of the global movement,” SEUK CEO, Peter Holbrook said.

He says Salesforce’s definition of a social enterprise is ‘using social media to engage with customers and deliver an experience that builds brand loyalty for the enterprise’.

“We’re mystified as to why Salesforce are attempting to trademark a term that has been used for well over a decade to describe a way of doing business that exists to tackle social and environmental problems, and is firmly on the radar of politicians and multinationals including Google, Microsoft, Virgin and PwC,” Holbrook said.

“With the launch of Big Society Capital, the world’s first wholesale social investment intermediary, and the passing of the Social Value Act we’re on the cusp of social enterprise entering the mainstream vocabulary in the UK.  

“The social enterprise sector is only going to grow, both at home and abroad, and they’re likely to confuse people by using the term.

“We have taken legal advice and will take the necessary steps to protect the term social enterprise on behalf of all those in the sector.”

The SEUK letter to Salesforce says social enterprises are businesses with a primarily social mission that reinvest the majority of their profits in pursuit of that mission.

“Confusion of the term ‘social enterprise’ and our cause at this time is dangerous to us and the people, communities and organisations we are trying to help. Yet you are repeatedly attempting to legally appropriate the term for private gain,” the letter says.

Currently there is no legal definition for social enterprise in the UK and the Not for Profit sector has not previously moved to legally secure the use of the term.

“To date we haven't felt the need for a legal framework as our sector is proud of its reputation for inclusivity, openness, creativity and collaboration. But many UK politicians are calling for such a legal interpretation,” Social Enterprises UK CEO, Peter Holbrook said.

Social Enterprise UK has declared that it is a customer of Salesforce and says Salesforce has not yet responded to its letter.

“Like much of the social sector, we use their CRM system to store our data. We will continue to do so while we feel there is still the opportunity to open up a positive dialogue with Salesforce.”

In Australia, social enterprises or social businesses are described as organisations that trade in order to fulfil their social mission. Social enterprises come in a variety of legal forms and operate across a range of industries such as hospitality, manufacturing and retail. Social enterprises often provide training and employment opportunities for job-seekers in addition to creating other forms of social or environmental benefit.

The Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Alliance in Australia, which includes the Centre for Social Impact, Social Ventures Australia and Social Business Australia says it is watching the UK developments and is supporting SEUK initiatives in trying to understand what Salesforce is doing.

Alan Greig, from Social Business Australia, says social enterprise has a long history as a social movement.

“It will be sad to see the term turned into just another international product brand – like another beer ad for instance. It is equally sad though to see the term social enterprise becoming captured by Government agencies and being turned into just another short lived ‘program’, “ Greig said.

“In the long term, it would be nice to see ‘social enterprise‘ becoming a ‘protected name’ – similar to the original social enterprises, ‘cooperatives’ and ‘trade unions’ – underpinned by legislated for ‘international principles’, but I can’t see this happening with the disparate forces already at work and making claims over the term.

“What we could hope for though is that with the challenge now being provided, this will give renewed energy towards genuine social enterprise development. Rather  than ‘dumbing down’ the phenomenon of social enterprise so that it can be constrained in a some some kind of social policy framework – a process that will ignore those things about social enterprise that make it different and useful in times of crisis – it is time to regenerate what is good about social enterprise and that is its underlying values of participation and democracy.

“It is these that will enable our ‘product’ to be differentiated from what is now trying to be ‘trademarked’ by a private corporation,” he said.  

Social Ventures Australia has been pioneering work in Australia over the past six years in the area of social enterprises.

Its website says social enterprises provide a range of solutions to deeply entrenched social or environmental issues, ranging from new approaches to delivering public services, to financial inclusion, to child care, to community recycling.

Mark Daniels from Social Traders, which was set up to encourage the establishment of commercially viable social enterprises throughout Australia, says Salesforce has put up a very different meaning of social enterprise and trademarking the name will make it very difficult for organisations to use it in future describing the move as hijacking the term.

Social Traders also declared that its own organisation is using Salesforce products in its operations. representatives in Australia have so far not responded to requests for comment on this issue.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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  • Simple as that.

    Community enterprise belongs to the collective commons as much as Social Enterprise.

    How is it that Bendigo Bank think they have the right to own this term.

    And when might there be a legal challenge from them to someone using it… or someone using it to them?

  • Anonymous says:

    At the end of the day the title of ‘social enterprise’ means little, other than to describe a specific set of activities. The term itself is relatively modern; while social agencies have been engaged in social enterprise for most of the past 100 or so years. More important than a title, is the outcome and impact our sector achieves through its ‘business-like, non-social service delivery.’ Yet it is a generic term and should remain so. It’s worth fighting for. Can one imagine the problems we would have if someone claimed ownership of the term, ‘management.’? At the same time I can’t help wondering how much of the sectors outrage is just the standard reaction to anything the corporate sector does that impinges on our sacred ground! Someone stole the name for ugg boots, so we simply rebranded them and everyone continues to refer to them as ugg boots.

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