The software company Salesforce, which is trying to trademark the term ‘social enterprise’ in the European Union and the US, has insisted that doing so would not prevent existing social enterprises from using it.
Salesforce says it wants to use the term only in connection with ‘enterprise software’ used by businesses to work with social networks.
In a blog published on Salesforce’s website, its European chairman Steve Garnett said: "Businesses or organisations in different sectors can use the same trademark.
"Salesforce.com does not own or intend to own the trademark rights for the term ‘social enterprise’ within the non-profit sector, and is not seeking to restrict descriptive uses of the phrase by others in philanthropy, social responsibility, community involvement or mission-driven organisations."
But Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, which has launched a campaign against Salesforce’s plans, said in an open letter to the company’s chief executive, Marc Benioff, that this response did not allay the sector’s concerns.
He said that social enterprises were not limited to areas such as philanthropy and community involvement, and that they worked in many fields, including software development.
"This seems to fundamentally misunderstand what social enterprises are," he said.
He added that Salesforce had implied in its marketing materials that businesses could become social enterprises by buying Salesforce products.
"We are painfully aware that the misuse of other social responsibility terms (such as ‘green’) has caused much wasted time and efforts to create legislation in many countries, because of misappropriation of the term by those wishing to subjugate, leverage or otherwise take advantage of the goodwill inherent in the term," he said.
"We believe this is misappropriation of our name. We believe that your behaviour will encourage others to do the same. Social enterprise is achieving so much but it is still in its relative infancy. We will not let it be destroyed by people who want to appropriate our name for private profit."