Now that Elon Musk has officially replaced Twitter’s logo with an X, many of us are wondering: can he actually use it?
The drastic rebranding doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Musk-watchers. Musk has long touted his idea of X as an “everything” app that offers audio, video, messaging, and support for digital payments. He has also founded a company called X.com before it merged with PayPal in the year 2000. While that name never resurfaced, that didn’t stop Musk from incorporating the letter X into all his other brands, including SpaceX, xAI, X Corp., and now Twitter.
On Sunday, Musk declared that Twitter will be rebranded as X and turned to the site’s community to commission a new logo. “If a good enough X logo is posted tonight, we’ll make [it] go live worldwide tomorrow,” Musk wrote. That night, Twitter user Sawyer Merritt offered up an X logo he no longer needed, which Musk scooped right up. But while its design seems somewhat unique at first glance, the notion of one chunky, angular line crossing over a thin one wasn’t created from scratch.
Merritt says the designer he worked with was merely “inspired by a font he found online,” but that designer seems to contradict that with a post of his own, stating he based it on a Unicode character. And that designer’s statement doesn’t necessarily clear things up, either: while Twitter’s new logo does look like it could have been inspired by a Unicode character, it looks almost exactly like one from Monotype. Either way, online sleuths have traced the design back to both potential sources.
Monotype is the typeface company that has created some of the world’s most recognizable fonts, including Times New Roman and Arial. If you look at the letter “X” in Monotype’s Special Alphabets 4, you’ll notice that it closely resembles Twitter’s new logo design. (Twitter’s first stab at the X looks like the lowercase X, while a thicker one that Musk briefly tried looks like the capital X from Monotype.)
While Ars Technica got confirmation from Monotype that the logo isn’t the same as the capital X in Special Alphabets 4, it still hasn’t heard back about the lowercase X, which the logo looks even more like. “We can confirm that whilst it is similar, this is not the capital X glyph from Monotype’s ‘Special Alphabets 4,” Monotype spokesperson Phil Garnham tells Ars Technica.
We reached out to Monotype to see if it could confirm whether the logo matches the lowercase character and didn’t immediately hear back. If Twitter’s logo does, indeed, match up with Monotype’s font, it would need to purchase a license in order to use it.
However, a somewhat similar character is also present in Unicode’s database, under the name mathematical double-struck capital X (U+1D54F). This character is meant for use in mathematical equations and first appeared in Unicode version 3.1 in 2001. It doesn’t look like Musk would face any legal hurdles by using a symbol from Unicode. Characters submitted to Unicode Standard are “released under the Unicode License, a free and open-source license that allows anyone to use the materials without restriction,” Unicode Consortium spokesperson Katherine Clark tells The Verge. That includes use in a trademark or company logo.
Even if the logo doesn’t violate any font licenses, which dictate whether someone has to pay to use a font, having a logo representative of a letter of the alphabet might make an X trademark harder to protect. And if you’re wondering — yes, you can register a single letter of the alphabet as a trademark (though only for a specific class of goods and services). In this 2015 report from Fast Company, Chris Chafin wrote that “single letters are among the most popular trademarks registered in the United States,” with each letter of the alphabet having hundreds of trademarks associated with them.
“A trademark doesn’t need to be particularly unique to be protectable”
As defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of all these elements that you can use to represent a company. Trademarks exist so consumers can distinguish goods and services provided by one source from those provided by another. Being more distinctive than a single letter of the alphabet makes that easier, but it’s not necessary.
“A trademark doesn’t need to be particularly unique to be protectable, as long as the owner can show that people associate the mark with the brand,” Alexandra Roberts, a professor of law and media at Northeastern University, tells The Verge. “There are thousands of single-letter trademark registrations; many, but not all, of them are more elaborately stylized than the one that now appears on the site formerly known as Twitter. Given the large user base on Twitter and the number of people following and reporting on this rebrand, I expect it wouldn’t take very long to establish that the new ‘X’ functions as a trademark and consumers associate it with Twitter’s services or brand.”
If Twitter does fully rebrand itself as X, that still won’t prevent other companies from using X branding. After all, the less remarkable a trademark is, the more difficult it is to prevent others from using it. Both Meta and Microsoft each already have their own trademarks on logos that look like an X. In Microsoft’s case, it registered for a trademark on an “X” logo for its line of Xbox products back in 2003, with the mark’s purpose listed as “providing on-line chat rooms for transmission of messages among computer users concerning video and computer games.”
As for why Meta also has a registered trademark on an X logo, it’s because the company acquired Microsoft’s now-defunct Mixer streaming application in 2020. The filing describes the trademark as a “stylized letter ‘X’” with white on its left side and blue on its right side. Its purpose is similarly focused on gaming.
That distinction is important. Since Twitter’s X logo won’t be used for gaming — at least not that we know of yet — Meta and Microsoft shouldn’t have any issues with it. That’s because companies can have similar marks as long as they don’t cross into each others’ industries and confuse consumers.
“In a crowded field with lots of ‘X’ trademarks, it will be difficult to enforce against others”
But that could change. Musk is a known gamer and was busy playing Diablo IV while he told followers about his plans to cut Twitter’s logo from the side of the company’s headquarters. Given Musk’s impulsive decision to purchase Twitter, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Musk decided to get into gaming on a whim. There’s also Musk’s idea of X as an “everything” app. This could bring the app outside the realm of social media and into others like payment systems and banking, which could get in the way of other X-branded services in the financial field, like the online trading app Xtrade or even XInsurance.
“In a crowded field with lots of ‘X’ trademarks, it will be difficult to enforce against others,” Roberts tells The Verge. “The argument that will enable Twitter/Musk to get protection for the mark will be the same argument that impedes aggressive enforcement.”
While Musk says the current X design is just a placeholder, that still hasn’t stopped him from plastering the logo all over Twitter’s desktop site and even on its headquarters. Twitter’s rebrand is going full steam ahead regardless of the cost, and there aren’t many legal hurdles standing in the way — X is here, whether we like it or not.