Claws out over 'geekgirl' trademark

Claws out over 'geekgirl' trademark

Summary: Two prominent women in the Australian IT industry are in a bitter dispute over the ownership of the trademark "geekgirl".


This article was updated to provide additional information on IP Australia filing an "adverse report" on Carruthers' trademark. There was also a paragraph added at the end of the story to say that Rosie Cross had, since publication, tweeted that she was working on a creative commons licence for the trademark. Further updates can be found below.

update Two prominent women in the Australian IT industry are in a bitter dispute over the ownership of the trademark "geekgirl".

The two women concerned are Sydney-based IT consultant Kate Carruthers and Melbourne-based creator of the world's first online cyber-feminist magazine Rosie Cross.

Kate Carruthers

Kate Carruthers (Kate Carruthers facilitating
image by Stephan Ridgway, CC 2.0)

Cross first lodged the trademark "geekgirl" with the Australian trademark office IP Australia on 14 July 1995 for the "publication of electronic books, magazines and/or multimedia both online on a communications network and on recorded media including optical disks and magnetic media".

She then lodged a further "geekgirl" trademark on 27 November later that year for "electronic/multimedia publications on recorded media (audio, video or text)".

Both of Cross' trademarks were approved and are protected by the trademark office.

However, on 28 January of this year, Carruthers lodged the trademark "geekgirl" as well as its plural "geekgirls". It is yet to be approved, and according to IP Australia's site, is still "under examination" by examiner Mark Lowe.

Carruthers' trademark lodgement was for the "arranging of exhibitions for cultural purposes; cultural activities; management of cultural events; providing information, including online, about education, training, entertainment, sporting and cultural activities; social club services (entertainment, sporting and cultural services)".

Carruthers told ZDNet Australia that she lodged the "geekgirl" trademark with IP Australia because the term "geekgirl" was being commonly used in general conversations or as a Twitter hashtag by a "number of women". Those women had been advised by Cross to stop doing so since she owned the trademark for the word, she said.

One of those told to not use the term by Cross was Carruthers herself.

"The only correspondence that she has had with me directly was via Twitter where she noted her trademark and asked me to stop calling myself a 'geekgirl' in general conversation and to cease using the hashtag '#geekgirl' on Twitter," Carruthers said.

Carruthers has since retracted this, instead saying that Cross' partner contacted her via Twitter, not Cross herself.

Carruthers responded by unfollowing Cross on Twitter.

If Carruthers' trademark is approved and protected, she said a general licence would be granted to enable women to "freely" refer to themselves as "geekgirls" without "fear of Ms Cross invoking her rights and nullifying their rights to freedom of speech".

"My intent, should I be successful, is to publish a general licence for the world at large to use the term freely in not-for-profit and other general uses (such as common parlance)."

However, IP Australia's website revealed that an adverse report has been filed for Carruthers' application. Such reports give reasons as to why an application does not meet the requirements of the Patents Act in its present form.

IT lawyer Kay Lam-MacLeod from law firm IDEALAW said that in this case it was expected that such a report would be issued "because [Carruthers'] mark is in the same class as the previous mark".

"So you get an adverse report if the examiner thinks that there's some problem with your registration. So either your [mark] isn't registrable because you make orange juice and you've tried to register orange juice as your trademark and then [the trademark office] goes 'No, that just describes your goods and services, we can't let you have it', or ... it clashes with something that's already on the register. That's why Kate would've got an adverse report."

She believed a response to the adverse report would need to be provided within 15 months of being issued.

"You usually have, I think, 15 months from the date of the adverse report to come up with some reasons why you should be able to use it even if it clashes with somebody else's on the register."

Carruthers also said that some connections of Cross had "been distributing defamatory emails in respect of the matter". She was "dealing with these separately".

"I believe strongly that [geekgirl] is a word in common usage and that anyone desiring to use it thus should be free to do so without fear of bullying," Carruthers said.

Cross told ZDNet Australia that she felt it was "inappropriate at this time to comment" to a list of questions put to her. ZDNet Australia was instead provided with a list of her achievements.

Since the publication of this article, Cross tweeted that she had "been working on a Creative Commons license for #geekgirl". ZDNet Australia has contacted Cross for further comment.

Update at 11:38am, 25 May 2010: Carruthers contacted ZDNet Australia to clarify quotes in paragraphs 11 through 13, saying she was not contacted by Cross directly.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • The whole thing sounds like a complete wank to me. But what would I know, I'm only a lowly #geekguy ...
  • Wonder if anyone's registered geekgrrl - I thought that was the approved slang.

    IMO the original trademarking is like a lot of patent squatters
  • Harold, did you get permission to use the term #geekguy or #geek for that matter... Your people will be hearing from my people...
  • Trademark "words", have to cover a specific area, and even then are only actionable when being used for a profit.

    So while the cleaner comes in to Hoover the office, I'll nip upstairs and Xerox a few documents.
  • You can not trademark a term that is already in common usage nationally, let alone globally.

  • "Two prominent women in the Australian IT industry"

    OK, has anybody heard of either of these two fools before?

    Can you even remember their names 20 minutes after reading this article?
  • Yes, I've heard of Kate Carruthers before. I'm not familiar with Rosie Cross.
    I just hope that whatever comes out of this, geek girls will still be able to self-identify that way without running into any problems.
  • What idiocy.
  • This is ridiculous, last I checked there were thousands of geeky girls who should be able to refer to themselves as a geek girl.
  • I can personally verify that Rosie has been using 'geekgirl' for around 15 years - because I still have stuff that I bought for myself and for women that I was trying to encourage to get online at the time...

    At that time 'geekgirl' was _not_ in common usage, and she deserved the trademark.

    A similar thing has happened with the word 'google' - just try and start your own business using that word and see how you go.

    If you're at all familiar with the law, unless you actively engage in protecting your trademarks against infringement, you lose them. How about we start bandying about _your_ business names and diluting their value? How would that go over with you?
    Thought so...
  • This tells kate Caruthers side of the story well but is she really just doing this out of kindness of heart to give it back to women everywhere like article says? She must of paid money to lodge a trademark try and get the name back and lots of effort. The writer should of asked why she spend all this money to fight claws out. And claws out sounds sexist.
  • You apparently don't know what a trademark is. You can trademark any word you like as long as it's not already being used in the same industry.

    Example: Apple is a fruit, but also trademarked as Apple (pc company), Apple (record company).

    Another example: Delta is Greek letter, triangle, math symbol for change in value, river opening, and also trademarked by several companies: Delta (airlines), Delta (dental insurance), Delta (faucets), Delta (power tools).
  • Unbelievable. People have too much time on their hands.
  • Just another case of someone who doesn't understand the meaning of the simplest word in the English language - NO. This has nothing to do with how the word is used in general society - Rosie Cross registered it as her distinctive brand a long time ago, and has every right to protect it. Kate Carruthers should accept that she cannot use the term for whatever she wants to - it has already been taken. Thats what the whole trademark system is about. Nothing else in the article above is relevant.
  • When people use "geekgirl" to sign off a post, they are describing themselves, not laying intelectual claim to a name. Even I was using it as a name, say for example I named a child "geekgirl", so what? (Apart from the trauma to the poor child through school!) I could change my name to "Apple" and what the hell could Apple (tm) do about it? I'm not trying to steel anything from Apple, it may simply be that I love apples (the juicy kind). Registering a trademark only means that it cannot be used by any entity conducting business in the same area of trade.

    Kate does not need to magnanimously grant people the right to sign off as "geekgirl". The law already covers this.
  • Uh, Rosies been using this for ages. Doesnt anyone remember the "" shirts and stuff around melbs and stuff , maybe 2003 or therabouts? That was her.

    Her claim is legit. You can probably find the site on, it was a big thing back in the day.
  • I remember visiting Rosie's site since mid-late 90s after hearing about her & her work promoting techy women on the radio. I remember because I am one (living in brisbane at the time) and there weren't as many back then. geek wasn't a common term then either & it wasn't as 'cool' as it is today. I recall people usually called people nerds, not in a positive edge. we used to say we prefer the term geek because a geek knows what they're doing. (we were young ;) rosie did a great job guiding women in IT/technology, along with others. I think that she & others opened the door for many of the people around today so to speak - likely many who are speaking out against her now, &/or were in primary school at the time or early childhood. I think it shows a lack of respect that rosie even had to defend this. there are plenty of other names to use to start women in techology groups with, or to join existing and support them. I think that would be a more professional approach than trying to claim an existing, and well known (in these circles/with mutual friends) name. I am sad to see it come to this. and I hope the adverse report is actioned.

    also I think the author should have researched this more - it seems to have been created based on twitter messages rather than deeper research methods, sadly the way of the future for many news sites it seems. short attention spans & popularity contests seem to hold more weight. it took only minutes to run a quick search of WayBack Machine & National Library of Australia's PANDORA project and see rosie's hard work all over these archives.*/

    I hope the new claim will be withdrawn (preferably) or rejected and this matter closed.
  • also I find the article title offensive & demeaning to the work of all women in technical & non-technical roles. unprofessional on many accounts. usually I don't post on 'news' sites but this has annoyed me into doing it. -- kath. aliak77 at gmail
  • Gee I have been using 'geekygirl' and 'geekygirlau' (as sometimes 'geekygirl' is taken) on various internet forums and on Twitter for a while now (ie more than 2-3 years)! .....someone here needs to grow up....They do realise that the term 'geekgirl' is used internationally by LOTS of users??!
  • I find that the term Geek, has been regulerly accepted by both genders for some years.

    I also feel that if one of the female type wishes to use the term Geekgirl, and registers it for business, it is hedonism for another person toattempt to preempt the use for any other business, or means of upsetting the status Quo, the second person or any other trying to use the sme name should be punished under the law, as for Patents