Written by: Caitlin Hamilton
Threads, a communication app that was launched by Meta on Wednesday, July 5th, may seem strikingly similar to another interactive app that sports the silhouette of a blue hummingbird. The ability to favorite, repost, and share daily thoughts confined by character limits are some similarities the public has recognized, to name a few. Meta has vocalized that Threads can be seen as a “friendly alternative to Twitter,” acknowledging the similarity between the two applications. Threads users can even export Threads posts to Twitter in a ‘tweet,’ which seemingly gives inherent publicity and accessibility to its competitor app. That said, on the day of its launch, Threads received a whopping 70 million user downloads, totaling roughly twenty percent of Twitter’s entire user base, which has taken over seventeen years to accumulate.
Twitter’s Elon Musk has threatened legal action against Meta for misappropriation of trade secrets. After Musk bought Twitter in the fall of 2022, Twitter has since let go of approximately 80% of its workforce with widespread layoffs. Musk alleges that former Twitter employees were hired at Meta and shared trade secrets that led to the Threads application. However, Meta insists that no one in Threads' engineering department is a former Twitter employee.
While the allegation of misappropriation of trade secrets is only an allegation to date, many are wondering whether Musk has legal grounds with a potential claim of intellectual property infringement. While many users are now going viral with memes that state Threads merely hit ‘copy and paste’ referencing Twitter, US copyright law does not protect ideas alone. Thus, unless there is evidence that Threads copied a Twitter programming code, Meta bears a legitimate patent for a communication newsfeed for its Instagram users. While the applications share similarities, hashtags, trending topics, advertisements, and direct messaging are presently specific to the Twitter brand. Similarly, while applications such as Tinder and Bumble may have a similar look and feel, matching couples on the internet is an idea, not an invention, and ideas alone are not protected under patent law. However, Twitter officially owns the patent on the pull-to-refresh feature that is viewed as an invention. While Twitter has expressly agreed not to use the patent offensively, meaning they cannot bring forth a lawsuit themselves on that claim, and can only argue that claim defensively to protect themselves in lawsuits against companies who also implement that feature, the pull-to-refresh feature illustrates the difference between an idea and an otherwise patentable invention.
As of July 9th, Threads has reached 98 million users, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has more than embraced the ‘friendly competition’ by posting a picture of two Spidermans pointing at each other, a scene that depicts both characters claiming the other is the imposter.