The surge in cryptocurrency-related projects has made trademark objections common occurrences within the cryptospace as blockchain companies try to find distinct words and phrases to use as descriptors. Companies from Alibaba to Telegram have sued other blockchain businesses for alleged trademark infringement.
Trademark objections can arise abruptly, taking companies by surprise. Melonport would know. In December 2018, the cryptoasset management company received a cease-and-desist declaration from banking and financial services corporation BNY Mellon. The document requested that Melonport refrain from using the word "melon" as a standalone term or within longer expressions like "Melon Smart Contract" and "Melon Council." Rather than sign the declaration, which included steep monetary penalties, Melonport decided to remove the word "melon" from its website and documentation page, replacing the term with "watermelon" (stylized watermelon).
This short (and somewhat humorous) amendment, however, means more than the five letters prefixed to the term. It's emblematic of Melonport's ability to retain a strong identity in its core values while rolling with the punches and looking toward the future. But BNY Mellon's unanticipated request has also affected Melonport in ways not immediately apparent.
Before we delve into the significance of the change, it would be helpful to trace the correspondence between Melonport and BNY Mellon leading up to the recent cease-and-desist declaration.
A Brief History of Watermelon
BNY Mellon's lawyers sent Melonport multiple cease-and-desist letters in fall 2018 objecting to the team's trademark applications. Melonport had filed the applications several months before but did not receive the cease-and-desist letters until the proverbial eleventh hour. Mona El Isa, CEO and co-founder of Melonport, explained the situation to ETHNews:
"It takes a few months to get the trademarks depending on the jurisdiction, but then once you register, once you do obtain the trademarks, there is another few months where people can file objections. You don't actually definitely get them until you've cleared that period, and what happened was, I think it was on the last day of that period to file objections, BNY Mellon's lawyers [served] us with letters on four different trademarks: 'Melon Chain,' 'Melon Fund,' 'Melon Protocol,' and 'Melon Mail.'"
After receiving BNY Mellon's objections, Melonport had to decide whether to take the issue to court or let the trademarks go. The protocol developed by Melonport was meant to be decentralized with no owner, so the company already had plans to wind down in February 2019. With this in view, El Isa decided to return the trademarks. Melonport sent an email to BNY Mellon communicating its decision.
The Melonport team thought the matter was closed. Before Christmas, however, BNY Mellon's lawyers reached out and said they assumed the word "melon" would be removed from Melonport's website and documentation page since the trademarks were returned. To make matters more difficult, BNY Mellon also wanted El Isa and her colleague Jenna Zenk to sign a cease-and-desist declaration (the most recent one) that would financially penalize Melonport and each of the individuals named for using "melon" and its variations.
El Isa and Zenk did not sign the agreement. The team opted instead to substitute the word "melon" with "watermelon" on the website and documentation page as a compromise to BNY Mellon's request. "Watermelon," although admittedly a bit fun, was ultimately chosen to preserve the importance of the word "melon" (which means "future" in Greek) and because, well, the team was short on time. El Isa only had a few days to respond to the banking corporation's demands.
Now we have the watermelon protocol, watermelon council, and all things watermelon.
Why the Fruit Matters
The trademark issue appears to be settled – at least for now – and to be fair to BNY Mellon, the financial services company was simply trying to protect its brand. A spokesperson from the corporation told ETHNews, "A firm's brand is an extension of its business, reinforcing the value it provides. BNY Mellon prioritizes the protection of its global brand and reputation."
The situation, though, has had a considerable impact on Melonport; the legal back-and-forth from December to early January was an unwelcome distraction. El Isa said folks on her team "were pretty shocked and in disbelief," particularly because the situation seemed "a little bit ridiculous for a while."
Of course, the team's anxiety – mingled with curiosity – is understandable. This was uncharted territory, and the name of the flagship protocol was at stake. "I think everyone's found it a little bit hard in the last few weeks not to ask questions about this and not to care about what's going on," El Isa elaborated.
At the same time, some team members "were also a bit flattered and amused that BNY Mellon [saw a] little 12-person company with plans to wind down in February such a threat to go after." Considering this sentiment, it appears that even nerve-wracking trademark kerfuffles can have silver linings.
Indeed, various CEOs and others in the cryptospace have commiserated with El Isa, describing similar experiences with companies like Visa. "It's amazing how many responses I've gotten," she said. What started as an unfortunate event has led to greater community support.
El Isa maintains she is "somebody who will always see the glass half-full," but having to address BNY Mellon's repeated requests was still a hassle. She is one of two non-developers on the Melonport team. Because of this, she and her non-developer colleague, Melonport's community manager, deal with everything ranging from legal and accounting to human resources and operations.
The situation has also caused some confusion and upset among community members. A sudden name change can be disorienting and cause problems for branding and marketing. Keeping the community abreast of relevant information became yet another responsibility to fulfill.
"When we have an unexpected situation like this, it just adds to the distraction," said El Isa. "That's not what we should be spending our time on now."
Melonport Is the Future
Despite all the stress and confusion, plus a new name moving forward, El Isa asserts that Melonport's identity remains intact. In fact, choosing the word "watermelon" as a substitute exemplifies the team members' personalities and playfulness. "We work hard, and we like to have a laugh every now and then," she explained. El Isa added that the new name "shows that we're confident in our follower base remembering us for the true meaning, i.e., the future."
All this is to say that Melonport's name may have changed, but its values have not. And it's these values, according to El Isa, that define the company.